Geneva, 30 April 2010 - The GAVI Alliance and its partners welcome Guyana's introduction this week of vaccinations against rotavirus, the primary cause of the most common and lethal cause of diarrhoea in young children.
Worldwide, diarrhoea is the second biggest killer of children under five years old, after pneumonia. In countries where rotavirus vaccines have already been introduced, they have dramatically reduced deaths and illnesses caused by the virus.
Rotavirus vaccines are being rolled out during vaccination week in Guyana, which has shown a long-term commitment to ensuring its children are immunised against vaccine-preventable diseases.
"Introducing rotavirus vaccines into our immunisation programme is a crucial step in saving our children's lives," said Guyana's Minister of Health, Dr Leslie Ramsammy during the roll-out week. "We are committed to doing all that we can for our children to make sure they grow up to be healthy and productive adults.
"In 1994, the government of Guyana decided that all proven, life-saving vaccines should be available to all of our children. We made this commitment and we will continue to grow our vaccination programme," he added.
In November last year, in recognition of Guyana's commitment to its immunisation programme, the GAVI Alliance gave the Ministry of Health an award for its outstanding performance in co-financing vaccine purchases.
Rotavirus is so highly communicable that virtually every child in the world will contract it before the age of five. In low-income countries, where there is limited access to pharmacies, doctors and hospitals, the effects are devastating and rotavirus causes more than 500,000 deaths around the world every year. Immunisation is one of the best ways to prevent the severest forms of the disease and in 2009, the World Health Organization recommended the global use of vaccines against rotavirus as part of every country's national immunisation programme.
Rotavirus vaccines have been widely used in high-income countries since 2006; in the United States, vaccination has cut hospitalisations for rotavirus infections by more than 80%.
Guyana is the fourth country to introduce the rotavirus vaccine into its national immunisation programme with GAVI's support, following Bolivia, Honduras and Nicaragua.
In Nicaragua, which in 2006 became the first developing country to introduce rotavirus vaccine, there has been a substantial impact, with the vaccine preventing 60% of cases of severe rotavirus diarrhoea and cutting emergency room visits in half. Diarrhoea wards that once were so crowded that babies had to share cribs are now virtually empty and hospital resources can be used to treat other illnesses.
"We applaud the Government of Guyana for recognising the life-saving value of immunisation," said Julian Lob-Levyt, CEO of the GAVI Alliance. "It is critical that we step up introduction of rotavirus vaccination, especially in African and Asian countries, where 85% of child deaths from this virus occur. We are calling on our supporters to help us raise US$2.6 billion so we can ensure children have access to rotavirus vaccines and to vaccines against the most dangerous forms of childhood pneumonia".