The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation has introduced a routine vaccine against pneumococcal disease to children in Kenya, the first African country to receive the preventive medicine.

The vaccine, developed by the GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer, will also be introduced in 19 developing countries including Nicaragua, Guyana, Yemen and Sierra Leone in 2011.

The alliance hopes to eventually launch the drug in more than 40 nations by 2015.

Pneumococcal disease, caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumonia, is a major public health problem worldwide that causes a range of pathologies, from common upper respiratory tract infections to severe invasive manifestations such as pneumonia, meningitis and septicaemia.

In developing nations, pneumococcal disease accounts for 18% of child deaths.

The alliance needs to raise $3.7 billion over the next five years in order to fund the immunisation programme, which also supports the rotavirus vaccine, designed to tackle diarrhoea, the second largest cause of death among children under five.

The project depends heavily on donor funding though the alliance’s partners, the World Bank, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and five national governments, according to Nature News.

Kenyan Minister for Public Health and Sanitation Beth Mugo said, “Today’s introduction of the pneumococcal vaccine in Kenya is an historic step towards improved health for children in Kenya and in other developing countries.”