Extensive research has demonstrated the effectiveness of rotavirus vaccination in reducing death rates in children. It is believed that rotavirus is the most common cause of severe diarrhoea and dehydration in under-fives, leading to some 527,000 deaths every year – 85% of them in Africa and Asia. WHO has recommended the inclusion of the vaccine in national immunization programmes worldwide. So far, however, many governments have been slow to act.
A report from IRIN News describes a meeting - held earlier this month in Dakar, Senegal - of the West African Rotavirus Advisory Board, at which health experts urged national governments in the region to introduce the vaccine with minimum delay. Professor George Armah,of Ghana’s Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research, said that the evidence from research was clear and policymakers should now act: “Rotavirus is one of the major causes of diarrhoea deaths and hospital admissions. There are vaccines that are very effective and can radically reduce mortality and morbidity from rotavirus infection”.
Two rotavirus vaccines are available - one of them from GlaxoSmithKline which sponsored the Dakar meeting. Following a similar meeting in Kenya, a number of countries in southern and eastern Africa applied to the GAVI Alliance - the global public-private partnership to increase vaccine access – for assistance in introducing both rotavirus and pneumococcal vaccines.