Vaccinations – The key to preventing childhood diseases

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Has your child received all the recommended shots for his or her age? If not, you may have a time bomb on your hands.


Measles, Tetanus, Whooping Cough, Pneumonia, Rotavirus Diarrhea, Tuberculosis, Meningitis, and Malaria, are the most common infections that cause death in children in Africa. Of the eight diseases, seven can be prevented through routine childhood vaccinations.

It’s quite easy to forget just how devastating these diseases and their complications are.

Polio, a viral infection affects the nervous system, and can cause crippling paralysis within hours. A focused worldwide Polio vaccination campaign, which started in 1988 has eradicated polio in most of the world.  Today, Polio remains endemic in only two countries – Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Measles causes a high fever, rash, and cold-like symptoms. It can lead to deafness, pneumonia, brain damage, and death. It spreads so quickly that a child who has not received the vaccine is likely to get the disease if exposed to it. The measles virus is highly contagious because it can remain in the air for as long as two hours after a person with the disease has left the room. Measles kills approximately half a million children each year in Africa.

Diphtheria, which starts as a severe throat infection, can cause paralysis, breathing difficulties, heart problems, and death.

Tetanus (Lockjaw), a bacteria found in soil and dirt infects a cut or wound, or often, a baby’s umbilical cord after birth. Tetanus can cause severe muscle spasms, breathing difficulty, heart problems, and death.

Pertussis (Whooping Cough), spreads from person to person through coughing or sneezing. It causes long bouts of coughing that make it difficult for a child to breathe, eat, or drink, Pertussis can lead to long-term lung problems, seizures, brain damage, and death. Pertussis kills approximately 133,000 children each year in Africa.

Haemophilus Influenzae Type B (Hib) can cause pneumonia; meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain); infections of the joints, skin, brain damage, and death. It is most severe in infants under one year of age.

Pneumococcal disease can lead to pneumonia, sepsis

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Rotavirus, a virus you’ve probably never heard about, is the number one cause of severe diarrhea in infants and young children worldwide.


Tuberculosis (TB) is airborne and highly contagious particularly to persons with weakened immune systems.  It usually infects the lungs, but other parts of the body, including the bones, joints, and brain, can be affected.


Hepatitis B, an infection of the liver can be transmitted from an infected mother to her newborn during childbirth.  It can also be passed from person to person through blood or body fluids or sexual contact. It can cause chronic liver damage, liver cancer, and death. It is second only to tobacco in causing human cancer.


Meningococcal Meningitis, an inflammation of the lining of the brain spreads through coughing or sneezing. It causes an intense headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, stiff neck, lethargy, delirium, convulsions, coma, and death.


Yellow fever is spread by mosquitoes and can be deadly. It causes jaundice; high fever; general muscle pain; a backache; chills; a headache; loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, bleeding from the mouth, nose, eyes, or stomach. Shock, liver and kidney failure, are its major complications.


Mumps is a viral infection can cause a headache and fever, is most commonly known for swelling of the glands of the neck. Less commonly known is that it also causes swelling and inflammation of the testicles in males. It can lead to male sterility, deafness, meningitis, and brain damage.


Rubella (German Measles) causes a fever and a rash on the face and neck. In pregnancy, it can cause miscarriage and severe birth defects. Like measles and mumps, rubella spreads from person to person very quickly, through coughing, sneezing, or just talking.


Chickenpox (Varicella) is a very contagious disease. It causes a rash and fever and is spread by coughing, sneezing or direct contact. A common complication in children is a bacterial infection of the skin. Among its serious complications is inflammation of the brain, pneumonia, and death. If a woman has this disease while pregnant, it can cause birth defects and stillbirth.


Hepatitis A is also an infection of the liver, but different from hepatitis B. Hepatitis A usually is spread by close household contact and sometimes by eating food or drinking water containing the virus.



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Did you know that Nigeria has the dubious distinction of being ranked 3rd among the 22 countries that are affected with Tuberculosis (TB)?

Tuberculosis is a major public health problem worldwide with symptoms that range from cough that usually lasts 3 weeks or longer to night sweats, weight loss, fatigue, and fever. The cough in TB is often accompanied by blood and/or phlegm. Other symptoms can include shortness of breath, loss of appetite and chills.

What is the reality of Tuberculosis in Africa?

Poverty is one of the main reasons why TB is hard to eradicate in Africa. Patients that are affected the most, often live in remote areas and have no direct access to proper health care. As a result, patients with TB usually get treatment at a more advanced stage of the disease by which time complications have set in. These complications include:

  • Pulmonary TB can cause permanent lung damage if not treated early
  • Spinal pain: Back pain and stiffness are common complications of tuberculosis due to involvement of the bones of the spinal column (Pott’s Disease)
  • Joint damage: Tuberculous arthritis usually affects the hips and knees
  • Liver or kidney problems: Your liver and kidneys help filter waste and impurities from your bloodstream. These functions become impaired if the liver or kidneys are affected by tuberculosis.

If you suspect that you or someone you know has TB, seek treatment as soon as possible by visiting the nearest primary health centre or hospital or see your regular doctor if you have one.


The WHO (World Health Organization) recommended DOTS (Direct Observed Treatment – Short course) strategy is a program that requires a trained health care worker or other designated individual (excluding a family member) to provide the prescribed TB drugs, watch the patient swallow every dose and document it.  Despite implementation of DOTS in most of Sub-Saharan Africa, accessibility to services still remains a huge challenge for the population of a lot of countries because many live long distances from the DOTS centres.

The 2 main goals of DOTS are:

  • To ensure that the patient with tuberculosis (TB) completes therapy
  • To cure and prevent drug resistance from developing in the community.

The African mind-set of attributing supernatural causes to illness, often results in delayed diagnosis and proper treatment. Some misconceptions and misunderstandings regarding causes, transmission and treatment of Tuberculosis also obstruct appropriate care seeking.

Some misconceptions about treatment that is false:

  • TB is incurable
  • TB treatment kills

Misconceptions about how you get TB –

  • TB can be contracted by smoking, mosquito bites, exposure to cold air, sharing eating utensils
  • TB is contracted by having penetrative sex with, or eating food that has been prepared by, a woman who has just given birth, is menstruating or has recently miscarried
  • TB = AIDS, so all TB patients have AIDS and so will die

A common misunderstanding among many South Africans is that having TB means HIV infection as well, but this is simply not true. While many HIV infected people may have TB, and TB accounts for a quarter of all HIV/AIDS deaths, not all TB patients have HIV.




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Did you know that Tuberculosis, also known as TB, is second only to HIV/AIDS as the greatest killer worldwide due to a single infectious agent?


Tuberculosis (TB) is a potentially serious, chronic, contagious infection caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium Tuberculosis; It most commonly affects the lungs but can be a multi-organ disease affecting the kidney, spine and brain. There are two types of the condition – Latent TB and Active TB disease.


People with latent TB cannot spread the bacteria and usually do not show any symptoms or fall ill. Those who have active TB however, show symptoms of the disease and can spread the disease. This occurs because the immune system is weak and cannot stop the growth of the bacteria.


TB is spread from one person to another through droplets in the air. When a person with Active TB disease of the lungs coughs, sneezes, speaks, or even sings he or she puts the bacteria in the air. It is highly infectious and people nearby may breathe in the bacteria and become infected. Overcrowded living conditions facilitate the spread of the disease. Tuberculosis cannot be contracted by shaking of hands, touching bed linens or toilet seats or kissing.



Who should get tested for TB?


Over 95% of TB deaths occur in low and middle-income countries, and so it is imperative that people living in countries where TB is widespread get tested. Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Russia, India, China and Pakistan all have high Tuberculosis burdens.

Other groups that should get tested include:

  • People living with medical conditions that affect the immune system such as HIV as TB is a leading killer of HIV-positive people causing one fourth of all HIV-related deaths.
  • Babies and young children – in 2013, an estimated 550 000 children became ill with TB and 80 000 HIV-negative children died of TB.
  • Health Care Workers who come in contact with actively infected patients
  • People who live in places where TB disease is more common – Prisons/Jail Houses, Crowded Hospitals
  • Substance Abusers – IV drug users, Alcohol and Tobacco
  • Elderly


There are two kinds of tests that are used to detect TB bacteria in the body:

  • Tuberculin Skin Test (PPD, Mantoux)
  • Tuberculosis Blood Tests


If you have a positive reaction to either of the tests, a sample of sputum or phlegm, is then tested to see whether you have active TB disease.