Rwanda introduces new vaccine against a leading childhood killer

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Rotavirus vaccines will protect children from severe and deadly diarrhoea

The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health administers the first Rotateq to a child at Gataraga, Musanze

Dr. Uzziel Ndagijimana, Rwanda's Ministry of Health Permanent Secretary, administers the first rotavirus vaccine to a child in Gataraga, Musanze. Source: Cyriaque Ngoboka/UNICEF Rwanda/2012.

GENEVA, 25 May 2012 – Children in Rwanda will from today benefit from the introduction of rotavirus vaccines which protect against the leading cause of severe diarrhoea. Rotavirus currently takes the lives of nearly 3,500 Rwandan children every year, accounting for 8.8 % of all under five deaths.

The introduction of rotavirus vaccines into the country’s routine immunisation programme marks an historic landmark in improving access to life-saving tools for children who need them the most.

“This is a major step for the children of Rwanda as this vaccine will save even more lives,” said Dr Agnes Binagwaho, Minister of Health of Rwanda. “Vaccines have proven to be one of the most impactful health interventions and we take pride today in our continuous ramp up of our routine immunisation programme with such a powerful new vaccine.”

Immunisation commitment

“Rwanda is once again demonstrating its leadership and commitment to prevent infectious diseases,” said Dr. Seth Berkley MD, CEO of the GAVI Alliance. “The rotavirus vaccine introduced today offers hope for the 438,000 or so children born each year in Rwanda who will now be protected against a major childhood killer. All children, wherever they are born, deserve the same access to these vaccines.”

This is a major step for the children of Rwanda as this vaccine will save even more lives.

Dr Agnes Binagwaho, Minister of Health of Rwanda

African children carry the heaviest burden of rotavirus disease, with some 40% testing positive for rotavirus when hospitalized with diarrhoea. Rotavirus surveillance began in Rwanda in 2010 to more accurately estimate the burden of rotavirus disease and to monitor the impact of vaccine introduction.

Rwanda has recently made great strides in the area of immunisation. The country was among the first developing nations to introduce pneumococcal vaccines in 2009 and HPV vaccines in 2011. Its routine immunisation coverage rates have steadily increased to 96.8 %. Rwanda has also made dramatic progress in improving both child and maternal survival. According to the World Health Organization, deaths amongst children under five fell from 138.4/1000 in 2005 to 117.5/1000 in 2011.

Deadly burden

Rotavirus vaccines offer the best hope for preventing the deadly dehydrating diarrhoea that rotavirus causes. Globally, one of every 260 children born each year will die as a result of rotavirus by their fifth birthday. That’s more than 1,200 children each day. 95 % of rotavirus deaths occur in developing countries, where access to medical treatment for severe diarrhoea is limited or unavailable. In Africa, nearly a quarter of a million children die from the deadly, dehydrating diarrhoea caused by rotavirus infection every year—approximately 50 % of the worldwide death toll.

In 2011, GAVI approved 12 African countries for rotavirus vaccine support including Ghana, Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Congo, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Malawi, Niger, and Tanzania. By 2015, GAVI plans to support the vaccination of more than 50 million children with rotavirus vaccines in 40 developing countries.

Rwanda is the third GAVI-eligible African country after Sudan and Ghana and the seventh GAVI-eligible country after Nicaragua, Honduras, Bolivia and Guyana to introduce rotavirus vaccines.

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+ 150 million

By the end of 2013, 11 countries in the African meningitis belt had collectively immunised 153 million people against meningitis A with support from the Vaccine Alliance.

WHO/UNICEF

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