Mongolia will immunize all children aged two to nine months old in the national capital Ulaanbaatar this year with the pneumococcal vaccine as a long-term measure to prevent childhood pneumonia, a major cause of death from indoor air pollution.
All 38,000 children within this age group will receive the 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) in 2018, which will give them immunity to pneumonia for 10 to 15 years.
The announcement by Mongolia Health’s Ministry comes weeks after the release of a report by the Mongolian National Center for Public Health and UNICEF that found that, in the last decade, cases of respiratory infections in Ulaanbaatar have nearly tripled and pneumonia is now the second leading cause of death for children under five years old.
Children living in the highly-polluted district of central Ulaanbaatar were found to have 40 per cent lower lung function than children living in rural areas.
The upshot of these impacts is a potential price tag of at least Mongolian Tugrik (MNT) 4.8 billion extra per year by 2025— the increase in the costs of treating air-pollution-induced diseases in children if air quality is not brought in line with national target levels.
Increased coverage of the pneumococcal vaccine was one of the recommendations of the report to reduce the impact of air pollution on children’s health. Others were:
• Strengthening public education campaigns to raise awareness and improve understanding of the health consequences of air pollution, protection measures, use of clean technology and fuels, and early recognition of respiratory diseases among children;
• Improving indoor air quality in public kindergartens, schools and hospitals where children spend considerable amount of time; and
• Providing guidance to the public on the use and access to good quality face masks.
In 2019, the ministry aims to introduce the vaccine in all provinces nationwide.
Pneumonia kills nearly 1 million children each year– more than malaria, measles and HIV/AIDS combined– almost all those deaths occurring in developing countries.
More than 50 per cent of premature deaths worldwide from pneumonia among children under five years of age are caused by the particulate matter (soot) inhaled from household air pollution.
Bringing preventable child pneumonia deaths down to zero by 2030 is the focus of UNICEF’s Every Breath Counts campaign, which provides support to close critical gaps in pneumonia prevention, diagnosis and treatment; in some countries expanding pneumococcal vaccine coverage will be the top priority.
Apart from health impacts, steadily increasing emerging evidence suggests that breathing in particulate air pollution can damage brain tissue and undermine cognitive development in babies and young children, leading to lifelong implications and setbacks.
Babies of 2-9 months in Ulan Bator to receive pneumonia vaccination
Cost-effectiveness of 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccination in Mongolia
Mongolia’s air pollution crisis: A call to action to protect children’s health