Thousands of Haitian children to be protected against leading cause of severe diarrhoea

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Rotavirus vaccine initiation during World Immunization Week represents remarkable post-earthquake success


Vaccination session at the UNICEF-supported clinic run by the Fondation pour le Developpement et l'Encadrement de la Famille Haitienne in Quicroit, an isolated village on the mountains south of Port au Prince.
Photo credit: UNICEF/2012/Dormino

Port-au-Prince, 27 April 2013 – Today, Haiti marked World Immunization Week with a ceremonial introduction of rotavirus vaccine into the country’s routine immunisation programme, with the support of the GAVI Alliance.

The rotavirus vaccine will protect tens of thousands of children in Haiti under age five against the leading cause of severe, often fatal diarrhoea. The disease takes the lives of more than 2,200 Haitian children every year, accounting for nearly half of all under-five diarrhoea-related deaths there. Globally, more than 1,200 children each day die as a result of rotavirus.

Haiti makes great strides in child health

Haiti’s Ministry of Health aims to immunise more than 250,000 children against the disease. The introduction of rotavirus vaccine into the country’s routine immunisation programme marks an historic landmark in improving access to life-saving tools for children who need them most urgently.

Because rotavirus is extremely contagious, tools that stop bacteria and parasites that cause other forms of diarrhoea such as cholera - improvements in drinking water, hygiene and sanitation -- do not adequately prevent the spread of rotavirus. Vaccination is the best way to prevent severe rotavirus disease and reduce its burden.

“Rotavirus vaccine offers the best hope for preventing the deadly, dehydrating diarrhoea that rotavirus causes,” said GAVI Deputy CEO Helen Evans at the launch ceremony. “Countries that have introduced rotavirus vaccine – as Haiti will do in the coming months – have experienced significant reductions in hospitalisations and deaths of children from severe diarrhoea, underscoring the incredible potential to improve child health and save lives. GAVI is proud to partner in these efforts.”

PAHO’s Vaccination Week in the Americas

Countries that have introduced rotavirus vaccine have experienced significant reductions in hospitalisations and deaths of children from severe diarrhoea, underscoring the incredible potential to improve child health and save lives. 

Helen Evans, GAVI Deputy CEO

Haiti will become the 14th GAVI-eligible country to introduce rotavirus vaccine. This represents a remarkable post-earthquake success story about the ongoing recovery of its health care system, joining the other four GAVI countries in the Americas (Bolivia, Guyana, Honduras and Nicaragua) in providing rotavirus vaccine to its children. Just three years ago, a catastrophic earthquake claimed 230,000 lives and shattered Haiti’s public health system.

The rotavirus launch also helps mark World Immunization Week, organised by the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as Vaccination Week in the Americas. World Immunization Week builds on a decade of Vaccination Week in the Americas regional campaigns, which have led to the vaccination of more than 411 million people in the region, led by PAHO. This year, 44 countries and territories in the Americas are participating in Vaccination Week, where 44 million people are expected to be immunised.

Haiti recently has made great strides in the area of immunisation. Last year, with the support of GAVI and its partners, Haiti launched pentavalent vaccine. Pentavalent has become a building block for strengthening Haiti’s health system, protecting children against five deadly diseases – diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), Haemophilus influenzae type B and hepatitis B.

UNICEF launches MNT campaign

This year to further mark Vaccination Week, GAVI Alliance partner UNICEF is embarking on a nationwide campaign in Haiti to immunise women against maternal neonatal tetanus (MNT). More than half of all MNT cases found in the Americas and Caribbean are in Haiti, contributing to a high infant mortality rate of 57 per 1,000 live births.

"Too many babies and mothers are still exposed to maternal and neonatal tetanus in Haiti," says Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF Representative in Haiti. "In 2013, UNICEF and its partners will immunise more than one million women of reproductive age in 65 districts identified as high-risk” for maternal and neonatal tetanus. The remaining districts will be covered in 2014.

The vaccination campaign is part of the 2013-2015 plan for the eradication of MNT, developed by the Haitian Ministry of Health with the support of partners such as WHO + PAHO, UNICEF and UN Population Fund. Since 2005, these three partners have developed complementary strategies, ranging from vaccination to the promotion of safe deliveries in hygienic conditions, along with strengthening the epidemiological surveillance cases of MNT.

GAVI is funded by governments [Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Republic of Korea, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States], the European Commission, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as private and corporate partners [Absolute Return for Kids, Anglo American plc., The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, Comic Relief, Dutch Postcode Lottery, His Highness Sheikh Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, JP Morgan, “la Caixa” Foundation, LDS Charities and Vodafone].

Click to view the full donor list.

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