From the IPS, writer Miriam Gathigah visited a clinic that was a part of the launch.
The Kenyatta International Conference Centre resembled one big nursery with parents and their crying babies. Hundreds of parents with their infants thronged the Centre where they received their first shot against pneumonia, and not even their tears as the shot broke through their skin could dampen the smiling faces of their mothers.
The mothers waited patiently for their infants’ turn to be vaccinated as the painful shot represents a chance to survive a disease that many children have not been lucky to withstand.
The vaccine, already available in various private hospitals, has remained out of reach for many children. A full dose costs about 188 dollars, which for the many Kenyans living on less than a dollar a day is too expensive.
Government figures reveal that an estimated 30,000 children die annually from pneumonia.
"We are delighted that our children will be vaccinated for free. I am happy with what the government has done today by helping us keep our children healthy. I cannot afford to pay for it seeing that on a good day I only earn three dollars washing clothes in people’s homes," explained an elated Belinda Otieno, a mother of two sets of twins below the age of six.
Despite the fact that new vaccine trials were carried out at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) for over a decade, the drug has remained inaccessible to thousands of children.
This has seen health experts continue to cry foul over what they saw as Kenyan children being used as guinea pigs for a crucial life-saving drug off-limits to them until now.
"We will provide this life-saving vaccine free of charge to every child less than one year old in public health facilities," said President Mwai Kibaki during the launch.
This pledge is literally a breath of life for many children, particularly among the poor, who constitute a significant percentage of the populace.