• Dr Clarisse Loe Loumou

in page functions
  • Clarise Loe Loumou

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

    27 March

    Rotavirus vaccines reach Cameroon: the end of the long wait

    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!

  • Clarise Loe Loumou

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

    27 Sept

    Protect children against severe diarrhoea: here is the long awaited vaccine!

    During my years of practice in the largest paediatric hospital of Cameroon in Yaoundé, I remember that the 300 beds were rarely empty. I was in charge of the gastroenterology and paediatric nutrition ward, where 28 beds were occupied more than 90% of the time by infants who were dehydrated and suffering from severe diarrhoea.

    Our problem was not the diarrhoea itself - its treatment protocols are well known; oral re-hydration salts, adequate re-nutrition, zinc supplementation, intravenous (IV) fluids for the most severe cases - but in making real the possibility of preventing severe diarrhoea.

    The roll out of rotavirus vaccines in Africa has begun. In this five-minute film, immunisation experts, health workers and mothers from Sudan and Tanzania talk about the need for the vaccines and their hope for the future. Source: Ryan Youngblood, Doune Porter/GAVI/2011.

    It was and still is common for children in Cameroon and other parts of Africa who are suffering from severe diarrhoea to die due to limited access to oral re-hydration salts, IVs, clean drinking water, or even the inability to reach a hospital in time.

    Rotavirus is the leading cause of severe diarrhoea in children under five years of age worldwide, killing more than half a million children each year and hospitalising millions more. Nearly 50%, or 230,000 of those rotavirus deaths, happen in Africa. Worldwide, more than one third of the 1.34 million diarrhoea deaths in children under five years of age, and 40% of the 9 million diarrhoea-related hospitalisations are due to rotavirus disease. In Africa, the percentage of rotavirus-related hospitalisations is even a bit higher at 41%. These facts may be little-known, yet diarrhoea remains the primary cause of child mortality in Africa.

    In Cameroon, diarrhoea is the third highest cause of death in children under five years old. 30% of those diarrhoeal deaths are due to rotavirus.

    We need to draw attention to the devastating role of rotavirus in causing death to millions of young children. My hopes of delivering a rotavirus vaccine across all of Africa must one day become a reality, not only to prevent hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths, but to boost our fight against poverty.

    And let’s not forget the economic costs of diarrhoea; of hospitalisation, of medications, of parents or caregivers who must stop work, and of young lives lost. This leads to a vicious circle, where diarrhoea that is inadequately treated can cause malnutrition, which can decrease immunity and lead to further re-infection with diarrhoea or other diseases. Vaccination offers the best hope for preventing severe rotavirus disease and the deadly dehydrating diarrhoea that it causes.

    I am proud that in July 2011, with the support of the GAVI Alliance, Cameroon introduced a vaccine against pneumococcal disease, the leading cause of pneumonia, and aims to introduce the rotavirus vaccine in 2013. None of this would be possible without political will, the active contribution of donors, and the efforts of the Government of Cameroon and its Immunisation Programme, which have made the environment conducive to helping these life-saving vaccines reach the children who need them most.

    I am delighted that our children are finally going to be protected against the main causes of diarrhoea and pneumonia, the world’s two biggest killers of children under five and the leading killers here in Cameroon. There is no reason for such unjust deaths, and we now eagerly await the rotavirus vaccine to reach us in 2013.

    Version française.

    This post also appears on the ONE International site. 

close icon

modal window here