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WHO urges vaccine against bacteria killing 150,000 babies each year

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SWITZERLAND: The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday called for the urgent development of a vaccine against a bacterial infection responsible for nearly 150,000 stillbirths and infant deaths each year.

A fresh report by the UN health agency and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that the impact of Group B Streptococcus infection (GBS), which is estimated to live harmlessly in the intestinal tracts of up to a third of all adults, is a far bigger cause of preterm births and disability than previously thought.

The report confirmed a previous devastating finding from 2017 that the bacterium causes almost 100,000 newborn deaths and close to 50,000 stillbirths each year, although it pointed to significant data gaps suggesting the true figures could be higher.

And for the first time it quantified the impact on preterm births, finding that GBS is behind more than half a million early deliveries each year, leading to significant long-term disability.

In light of such staggering numbers, the report authors lamented that more progress had not been made towards developing a vaccine.

“WHO joins partners in calling for urgent development of a maternal GBS vaccine, which would have profound benefits in countries worldwide.”

Wednesday’s report showed that the bacterium leaves some 40,000 infants each year with neurological impairments.

Currently, women with GBS are given antibiotics during labour to reduce the chance of it passing to their baby.

But this approach poses problems in places where screening and antibiotic administration during labour are less accessible.

Tellingly, the highest rates of maternal GBS are found in sub-Saharan Africa — which alone accounts for around half of the global burden — and Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, the study showed.

It suggested that a GBS vaccine that could be administered to pregnant women during routine pregnancy checkups and that reached over 70 percent of pregnant women could avert 50,000 infant and foetus deaths each year.


Thursday, November 4, 2021 – 01:00

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