Geneva — Malawi becomes the 10th GAVI-supported country to introduce vaccines against most common cause of severe and fatal diarrhoea
Malawi has become the latest in a growing number of African countries to introduce rotavirus vaccine into its national immunisation programme, offering its children the best possible protection against the primary cause of severe and fatal diarrhoea.
"This is an important day for all the children of Malawi", said GAVI Alliance CEO, Dr Seth Berkley. "Rotavirus immunisation is their best hope for protection against rotavirus disease and the deadly dehydrating diarrhoea it can cause."
Diarrhoea is a leading killer of children in Malawi, causing approximately 11 percent of deaths in children under five years of age. Rotavirus infection causes over 2,500 of these deaths.
Malawi is the fourth GAVI-eligible country in Africa to roll out rotavirus vaccines, following in the footsteps of Sudan, Ghana and Rwanda; in total, 10 GAVI-eligible countries around the world have now added this life-saving vaccine to their national immunisation programmes.
Malawi helped pave the way for Africa's introduction of rotavirus vaccines.
From 2006-2009, a pivotal clinical study commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO) was conducted in Malawi and South Africa to better understand how these vaccines work among the infants and children in low-income countries in Africa with high death rates from diarrhoeal disease. This clinical study showed that rotavirus vaccines reduced severe rotavirus disease among Malawian children in their first year of life, when they are at greatest risk of severe dehydration from diarrhoea by nearly 50 percent and all-causes of diarrhoea by 25 percent.
Diarrhoea and pneumonia are two of the leading killers of children in Malawi accounting for nearly 25 percent of under-five deaths
Right Honourable Khumbo Hastings Kachali, Vice President of the Republic of Malawi and Minister of Health
In June 2009, based in part on this study, WHO's Strategic Advisory Group of Experts recommended that rotavirus vaccines be included in all national immunisation programmes.
"The trials in South Africa and Malawi were instrumental in demonstrating that rotavirus vaccines significantly reduced rotavirus diarrhoea in impoverished, high-mortality settings," said Dr Kathy Neuzil, Director of Vaccine Access and Delivery at PATH, member of the Rotavirus Organization of Technical Allies (ROTA) Council, and Clinical Director of the Rotavirus Vaccine Program, which oversaw the Malawi and South Africa study.
"It is in low-income countries, where disease burden is heaviest and access to treatments is most limited, that these vaccines will have the greatest impact and save the most lives."
Pneumococcal vaccine rollout
Today's introduction comes less than a year after Malawi successfully rolled out pneumococcal vaccine with GAVI support.
"Diarrhoea and pneumonia are two of the leading killers of children in Malawi accounting for nearly 25 percent of under-five deaths," said Right Honourable Khumbo Hastings Kachali, Vice President of the Republic of Malawi and Minister of Health. "We know that adding lifesaving rotavirus vaccines to our childhood immunisation programme will dramatically improve the health and well-being of our children by substantially reducing the severe and fatal diarrhoea that our families have been grappling with for so long."
Save lives, reduce health burden
If used in all GAVI-eligible countries, rotavirus vaccines could prevent an estimated 180,000 deaths and avert six million clinic and hospital visits each year, thereby saving an estimated US $68 million per year in treatment costs.
Accelerating access to rotavirus vaccines can not only save the lives of Malawian children but it can also reduce the health burden of rotavirus disease thereby contributing to poverty reduction and a growing economy.
"Policymakers, donors, and the global health community must work together to help overcome the challenges to getting rotavirus vaccines and other diarrhoeal disease interventions to all children worldwide," said Dr Seth Berkley.
GAVI and its partners plan to support the introduction of the life-saving rotavirus vaccines in at least 40 of the world's poorest countries by 2015, immunising more than 50 million children.