Rotavirus is the leading cause of severe diarrhoea and diarrhoeal deaths in children worldwide
LEADING CAUSE OF SEVERE AND FATAL DIARRHOEA IN CHILDREN
An estimated 760,000 children under five die from diarrhoeal disease each year, accounting for 12% of under-five deaths in Gavi-supported countries. Worldwide approximately 37% of hospitalisations for diarrhoea in children under five are due to rotavirus. More than 2.4 million child deaths can be prevented by 2030 through accelerating access to lifesaving rotavirus vaccines in Gavi-supported countries.1
Nearly every child in the world will suffer a rotavirus infection by their third birthday. While rotavirus infects children in every country, more than 95%2 of rotavirus deaths occur in low-income countries in Africa and Asia, where access to treatment for severe rotavirus-related diarrhoea is limited or unavailable.
Children suffer primary rotavirus infection before 9 months of age, and the virus can spread to family members and other people with whom they have close contact. In addition to severe watery diarrhoea, symptoms include vomiting, fever and abdominal pain. In serious cases, children urgently need intravenous fluids, or they risk dying from dehydration.
Unlike other types of diarrhoea, the spread of rotavirus cannot be prevented by improvements in water and sanitation. The virus is so contagious and resilient that improving hygiene has little impact on preventing infection. Also, rotavirus cannot be cured with drugs such as antibiotics. Although it can be treated through adequate healthcare, this is often lacking in Gavi-supported countries. Therefore, vaccination is the best way to prevent rotavirus illness and death.
Map of the global burden of rotavirus diarrhoeal disease
ROTAVIRUS VACCINES SAVE LIVES AND COSTS
WHO recommends that rotavirus vaccines are included in all national immunisation programmes, particularly in countries in South and Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
A study in 116 countries showed that rotavirus vaccination is cost effective and associated with significant decreases in disease burden, particularly in low- and lower-middle-income countries with high child mortality. Researchers found that without rotavirus vaccination, in 2010 there would have been:
- 23 million outpatient cases
- 3.3 million inpatient cases
- over 290,000 deaths
- US$ 987 million spent on treatment costs.3
It is estimated that each year, the use of rotavirus vaccines in Gavi-supported countries could prevent 180,000 deaths and avert 6 million clinic and hospital visits, thereby saving US$ 68 million annually in treatment costs.4
Countries that have introduced rotavirus vaccines have seen a dramatic improvement in child health. Recent studies show the swift and significant impact of rotavirus vaccines in the two to five years following their introduction in national immunisation programmes. For instance, diarrhoeal deaths in young children were reduced by 19–43% in Bolivia, 43–55% in Mexico and 57–64% in Venezuela following the introduction of rotavirus vaccines.5