Health leaders from the Asia-Pacific met Thursday to discuss ways to encourage the use of vaccines against pneumococcal diseases which are a major killer in the region, organisers said.
Most regional countries, with the exception of Australia and New Zealand, have been slow in adopting the vaccines in their immunisation programmes, they said.
Advertisement"Here in the Asia-Pacific region, we still have a long way to go in addressing pneumococcal disease," said Luis Jodar, deputy director general of the Seoul-based International Vaccine Institute.
The two-day symposium is necessary to raise public awareness about the magnitude of this "dreadful" disease, he said in a statement.
"We hope that this unprecedented gathering of regional leadership will enable all of us to find creative ways to expand pneumococcal vaccination across the region."
A 2006 report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UN children's fund UNICEF report said more than half of all pneumonia cases worldwide occur in the Asia-Pacific.
Of the 133 million childhood pneumonia cases around the world in 2005, India accounted for 44 million and China accounted for 18 million.
The WHO says pneumococcal disease claims up to 1.6 million lives worldwide annually. This includes up to one million children under five, a majority of them living in Asia and Africa.
Five of the top ten countries with the highest burden of pneumococcal disease are in Asia -- Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia and Pakistan.
The International Vaccine Institute said in a statement that pneumococcal disease, which includes pneumonia, meningitis, sepsis (blood poisoning) and ear infections, is becoming an increasing threat worldwide.
But a vaccine can protect against seven of the most common serotypes.
Fifteen countries in North America, Latin America, Oceania, Europe and the Middle East have introduced it and are showing a "drastic reduction" in the incidence of the disease, the institute said.
But many countries in the Asia-Pacific have been more reluctant to adopt these vaccines, mostly because of the lack of reliable data on pneumococoal diseases and accompanying costs.
"We now have the opportunity to break with the historical delays of the past and speed life-saving pneumococcal vaccines to all children, everywhere," said Orin Levine.
Levine is executive director of GAVI's PneumoADIP, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to encouraging use of vaccines.