The YES to PnD Protection campaign aims to galvanise the government to include the pneumococcal vaccine into Malaysia’s National Immunisation Programme.

The YES to PnD Protection campaign marked its 10th year of pneumococcal disease awareness in Malaysia recently at a parent advocacy exhibition at Whitebox Gallery, Publika, Kuala Lumpur.

The event centred on the call of concerned parents to include the pneumococcal disease (PnD) vaccine into Malaysia’s National Immunisation Programme (NIP). The theme “Stop Sitting on It!” is a call to policy-makers to recognise the severity of the disease and to take active steps towards providing protection for the children of Malaysia.

The campaign also received an international endorsement from the Confederation of Meningitis Associations (CoMO) in Australia, an international member organisation working to reduce meningitis (a disease caused by the pneumococcus bacteria) around the world.

CoMO was founded by Bruce Langou-lant, parent of a meningitis survivor. Through the power of parent advocacy, CoMO successfully campaigned for the Australian government to include the PnD vaccine into their NIP.

“Do not underestimate the power of a concerned parent. We move mountains for our children and will do anything to keep them protected.

“We at CoMO are extremely proud to endorse the YES to PnD Protection campaign and all the good work they have been doing in Malaysia.

“Little by little, parent advocacy can make a difference in public policy and create a better future for Malaysia. It is our sincere hope that the Malaysian Government will include this live-saving vaccine into the NIP soon,” said Langoulant at the event.

Paediatricians Datuk Dr Zulkilfli Ismail, Dr Yong Junina Fadhil and Datuk Dr Musa Mohd Nordin have been instrumental in supporting the advocacy efforts in Malaysia for the past 10 years.

“We couldn’t have done it without the help of these doctors, who have lent their unwavering support to the cause. It has been a long journey, but with their support, we will continue to pursue the inclusion of this vaccine until all children of Malaysia are protected,” said campaign head Chan Li Jin during her address.

“We have been committed to this journey of advocacy and awareness, but we continuously face a lack of interest and action from our policy makers. This campaign is to drive action: how we can make pneumococcal protection available for all Malaysian children, especially those who cannot afford the vaccine right now because of its high cost,” she added.

Infection with PnD may give rise to blood poisoning, ear infections, brain infection and lung infection, which can lead to death and long term disability.

The World Health Organisation has estimated that this disease kills approximately 700,000 to one million children below five years of age every year.

Despite wide publicity of its ramifications, Malaysian children continue to be unprotected against it. Pneumonia is the sixth main cause of death in Malaysia, with 5% of deaths in 2010 attributed to this disease .

Over 103 other countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Costa Rica have included the vaccination in their NIP.

In Malaysia, it is an optional jab costing RM280-320 in private healthcare centres, limiting protection to only those whose parents can afford the vaccine.

Unfortunately, PnD is a disease that can present with unusual symptoms and cause serious complications in affected children. Often, at first glance, doctors are unable to determine the cause of the child’s sickness as there are many challenges to diagnosing the disease, leading to numerous consultations and lengthy hospitalisations.

Serious infections are a significant financial burden for families in Malaysia and vaccination continues to be the world’s most important and cost-effective public health measure.

The children of Malaysia will benefit because the pneumococcal vaccine will reduce pain and suffering, and prevent disability and death from the disease.

“I support this campaign even though it’s difficult for me to talk about the loss of my son, Aqil, again and again. What motivates me is that my message will help save many other lives.

“I don’t want to go through what I had to go through when I lost my first-born to this disease,” shared Erina Asmawani during the event. Erina lost her son Aqil Hamzah to PnD a couple of years ago.