The first children in a GAVI-eligible country in Africa were recently vaccinated against rotavirus in Khartoum, Sudan. Rotavirus is responsible for more than 500,000 under five deaths every year worldwide. By 2015, GAVI plans to support the introduction of this life-saving vaccine in some 40 countries, most of them in Africa, which have extremely high rates of death from rotavirus infections.
While nearly every child in the world is at risk of rotavirus infection, most deaths occur in developing countries, where access to medical treatment is limited or unavailable. The statistics in Africa are tragic and staggering. More than a quarter of a million young African children die from diarrhoea caused by rotavirus each year. Six of the seven countries with the highest infant mortality rates from rotavirus worldwide are located in Angola, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Sierra Leone, and Somalia.
Rotavirus vaccines are the best tool available for protecting children against severe and deadly diarrhoea. “Rotavirus vaccines save children’s lives and our mission is to ensure we get these vaccines to children in Africa and throughout the developing world as quickly as possible. These are the places where rotavirus has the most devastating impact”, said Helen Evans, GAVI interim CEO.
In countries where they have already been introduced, rotavirus vaccines have proven to be highly effective and have saved thousands of children’s lives. Recent studies show the swift and significant impact of rotavirus vaccines on children’s health. For example, in Mexico, diarrhoeal disease death rates dropped by more than 65% among children aged two years and younger three years after the vaccine was introduced. In Africa, the vaccines have sadly remained out of reach of most families. Until now, only South Africa (which is not GAVI-eligible because of its relatively high income level) has been able to introduce rotavirus vaccines into its national immunisation programme. GAVI’s aim is to bring these vaccines to more children in Africa as quickly as possible.
Adding rotavirus vaccines to national immunisation programmes and integrating them with appropriate diarrhoeal disease control interventions as part of a package of strategies to prevent diarrhoeal disease-related deaths will make a significant contribution to achieving Millennium Development Goal 4. In Latin America four GAVI-eligible countries have already introduced rotavirus vaccines: Nicaragua, Bolivia, Honduras, and Guyana.
The historic roll-out of rotavirus vaccines in Africa is taking place a month after the GAVI Alliance pledging conference, where donors committed an additional $4.3 billion to GAVI to accelerate the introduction of rotavirus and other vaccines. GAVI aims to fund rotavirus vaccines for children in more than 40 of the world’s poorest countries by 2015, immunising more than 50 million children with the help of the members of the Alliance.