Rwanda today became the third GAVI-eligible African country to introduce vaccines against rotavirus, the leading cause of severe and deadly diarrhea in young children. Rotavirus is responsible for close to 3,500 deaths in children under five years of age every year in Rwanda, which amounts to 8.8% of all under five deaths
nationwide. Vaccines are the best way to protect children in Rwanda and the rest of the world from severe rotavirus disease and the deadly dehydrating diarrhea that it causes. Now that Rwandan children will have access to life-saving rotavirus vaccines, much of this death and suffering can be prevented.
"Introducing rotavirus vaccines gives us the opportunity to save many lives and to reduce the impact of illness on our hospitals and within our communities," said Maurice Gatera, EPI Manager, Rwanda Ministry of Health.
Children in Africa bear the heaviest burden of rotavirus disease—approximately 40 percent of children hospitalized for diarrhea test positive for rotavirus. Nearly 50 percent
of the more than 450,000 deaths annually from rotavirus occur in Africa where access to treatment for the deadly dehydrating diarrhea caused by rotavirus is limited or unavailable. Rotavirus surveillance was initiated in Rwanda in October 2010 to track the burden of rotavirus disease. The Ministry of Health is working to strengthen the surveillance system to effectively monitor the impact of vaccine introduction on child deaths and hospitalizations.
In April 2009, Rwanda became the first developing country to introduce pneumococcal vaccines into its routine immunization program, which led to a significant decline in respiratory infections. Ministry of Health officials expect the introduction of rotavirus vaccines have a similar dramatic impact on the incidence of severe infant diarrhea as it has in other countries already using the vaccine.
With widespread use of rotavirus vaccines, we can drastically reduce the numbers of young children who are hospitalized or die from severe diarrhea and greatly improve child health in the developing world. Rwanda is the third African country to utilize GAVI support for rotavirus vaccine introduction after Sudan (July 2011) and Ghana (April 2102). This brings to seven the total number of GAVI-eligible countries that have introduced rotavirus vaccines. GAVI plans to vaccinate more than 50 million children in 40 of the world’s poorest countries by 2015 and last year approved an additional 16 countries—12 in Africa—for rotavirus vaccine support.
Last month, GAVI announced it had secured low prices on rotavirus vaccines from both GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Merck & Co. Inc. (Merck), the two manufactures with licensed and approved rotavirus vaccines. While the first six GAVI-eligible countries introduced GSK’s Rotarix® vaccine into their national immunization programs, today’s introduction in Rwanda marks the first rollout of Merck’s RotaTeq® vaccine
in a GAVI-eligible country. In developing countries such as Rwanda, where the toll of rotavirus disease is devastating, GAVI’s support for the affordable and financially sustainable introduction of rotavirus vaccines in national immunization programs will make a significant impact on global efforts to achieve Millennium Development Goal 4, the reduction of child mortality.
PATH collaborates on rotavirus vaccine activities with the CDC, WHO, UNICEF, vaccine manufacturers, and countries around the world. RotaFlash is funded by the GAVI Alliance.
For information on rotavirus disease and RotaFlash, please email us. For information on diarrheal disease, please visit DefeatDD’s website. For information on the GAVI Alliance’s support for rotavirus vaccine introduction, please click here.
Banner photo courtesy of One: Living Proof.
Other photo courtesy of Merck & Co. Inc.