The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (Gavi Alliance), an organisation that aligns public and private resources in a global effort to create greater access to the benefits of immunization, will provide a grant of around $260 million to India for introducing Hib vaccines in its Universal Immunization Programme.

The Indian government will introduce Hib vaccination across the country under the Universal Immunization Programme in April this year. This will be followed by the pneumococcus vaccination in 2010 across the country.

The decision by the Union government to take the programme forward comes after recommendations from Indian Academy of Paediatrics (IAP) in April 2008 which insisted on Hib, hep B and MMR vaccines to be included in the national immunization programme with immediate effect.

Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib) is a bacterium which causes severe pneumonia, meningitis and other life threatening conditions in children under five years of age, stated Dr Mathuram Santosham, professor, department of International Health and Paediatrics John University and director, Health Systems Programme India, Bloomberg School of Public Health., USA.

Gavi's PneumoADIP project is to improve a child's health with the introduction of lifesaving pneumococcal vaccines. PneumoADIP is a team of medical experts based at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health which is supported by a $30 million grant from Gavi.

Pneumonia is an under recognized child health issue resulting in over 400,000 deaths in India. The Indian incidence accounts for 40 per cent of total 2 million children affected with the disease annually. Almost one in five child deaths result from infectious indicates and pneumonia is the key cause of fatality.

The government had made efforts to eradicate pneumonia as part of the 11th Five Year Plan and Millennium Development aims to reduce the child mortality by two thirds by 2015. Both Hib and pneumococcal conjugate vaccines included into the routine immunization are proven to be safe and effective in preventing pneumonia and meningitis in children in the economically backward groups of developing world. Supporting the immunization is the supplementation of good living conditions and nutritious food, stated Dr Jagidish Chinnappa, paediatrician, Manipal Hospital. There is no time to wait and we must make preventive vaccines as part of India's routine immunization, which is viewed as a financially devastating illness, he added.

The vaccines for pneumonia are manufactured by five Indian companies: Serum Institute, Shanta Biotech, Panacea Biotec, Bharat Biotech and Biological Evans. Only two pharma companies Shanta Biotech and Panacea Biotec have bagged the WHO prequalification vaccine supply which is to be administered against five deadly infectious diseases (DTwP+ Hep B+ Hib) of early childhood. The two companies will supply the vaccines for the Universal Immunization Programme. The multinational pharma majors which manufacture the vaccine are GSK and sanofi aventis.

According to pharma analyst, Indian vaccine market is estimated at around Rs. 1,000 crore and registering a growth rate of around 30 percent annually. Of this, the government immunization programmes is valued at Rs 600 crore.

The life threatening pneumonia is caused by Hib bacteria and pneumococcal bacteria or Streptococcus pneumonia. The two bacteria account for half of the total child pneumonia deaths in the country. Hib is a leading cause of bacterial childhood meningitis and severe pneumonia and accounts for 20 per cent of the deaths. Pneumococcal pneumonia is estimated to cause 35 per cent of the deaths.