Rotavirus vaccines reach Cameroon: the end of the long wait

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[French]
Clarise Loe Loumou

Dr. Clarisse Loe Loumou, paediatrician and member of the Steering Committee of the GAVI Civil Society Organisation (CSO) Constituency  

Thursday
27 March
2014
Centre d'information Alternative santé

Information Centre Alternative Santé, Cameroon.

When I was a paediatrician in charge of the gastroenterology and paediatric nutrition ward at the Centre Mère et Enfant—one of the largest paediatric recruitment centres in Yaoundé and all of Cameroon—severe and fatal diarrhoea was a regular part of my day. In my own country, Cameroon, diarrhoea is one of the top killers of children aged under five. Rotavirus, the leading cause of severe and fatal diarrhoea in children worldwide, kills more than 5,800 Cameroonian under fives each year. So it is big news today that rotavirus vaccines are finally being introduced into our national immunisation programme!

Rotavirus is an old story for us in Cameroon; it is a disease that sadly has already done too much damage.

More than 15 years have passed since initial studies (1995) demonstrated the prevalence of rotavirus diarrhoea. Years later, the heavy burden was confirmed by WHO's rotavirus surveillance led by Dr. Njiki Kinkela. This is why, when I wrote a blog three years ago about the GAVI Alliance's approval of Cameroon’s application for the introduction of rotavirus vaccines, I concluded on both a hopeful note, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the new vaccine, and a desperate note, saddened by the knowledge that thousands of children would unjustly die from rotavirus diarrhoea during the wait. Today, our children no longer have to wait: the vaccine is with us at last.

With this new vaccine, we are taking an important step towards reducing illness and death in our infants and young children. We owe this progress to the strong and sustained political commitment of the Minister of Health and the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) to introduce this vaccine. We should also not forget that none of this would have been possible without funding support from the GAVI Alliance, whose upcoming replenishment pledging conference will be crucial for our country's immunisation programme.

Civil society must take the message closer to the communities to be in line with the Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP), which calls for ownership of vaccination and vaccine campaigns by the communities they serve in order to achieve effective and optimal immunisation coverage.

We are already doing this through the PROVARESSC platform, a civil society forum for the promotion of vaccination and health system strengthening in Cameroon. This has been supporting the EPI for several months in social mobilisation and communication efforts particularly for vaccination campaigns against polio.

Cameroon has strong vaccination champions, including our former MP Amougou Mezang and my fellow paediatrician Dr. Ngosso Tetanye, who support civil society’s messages and are committed to increasing the visibility of vaccination among the general public and keeping vaccination prominent on the political agenda. There will be an opportunity later this year to raise the profile and importance of vaccination at the Congress of the UNAPSA (Union of National African Paediatric Societies and Associations), which will be hosted by Cameroon in November.

Much still remains to be done. Cameroon faces significant health immunisation challenges with a drop in national coverage rates, inequality in coverage between districts and cities, and most importantly, the recent resurgence of polio. The introduction of rotavirus vaccines should not be another missed opportunity to boost our routine immunisation programme alongside regular vaccination campaigns.

Resting on our laurels is not an option. Now that we have all the tools, we must strengthen efforts to promote vaccination!

 

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