The permanent secretary at the Ministry of Health, Social Welfare and National Assembly Matters, has declared The Gambia's Expanded Programme on Immunisation as not only among the best, but also the most successful in Africa and the world at large.
PS Matilda Bouy was speaking Wednesday at the Kanifing Municipal Council (KMC) grounds, while presiding over the launching ceremony of the Rota Virus Vaccine. She told the gathering that the country consistently maintains a very high coverage for all the antigens over the past years; something she said earned The Gambia an award in 2009 by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) at the Fourth Partners' meeting held in Hanoi, Vietnam.
PS Bouy noted that the launching of Rota Virus Vaccine in The Gambia has marked the introduction of Rotavirus vaccine into the routine Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) service. "Rota is the eleventh childhood disease condition that the programme is vaccinating against," she indicated.
She went on to underscore the importance of vaccination, saying it protects children against diarrhea, which is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality among children in The Gambia.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), according to her, has estimated that Rotavirus accounts for nearly 450,000 deaths each year worldwide and 85% of cases occur in developing countries. "This is the most common cause of severe diarrhea among children, affecting 95% of children under the age of five years worldwide," she added. PS Bouy also disclosed that in The Gambia, nearly 300 children in this age group die from Rotavirus infection, which she said made it important to ensure that every eligible child is vaccinated against Rotavirus.
The permanent secretary then craved the indulgence of the parents and guardians to ensure that each and every child that is eligible attends clinic regularly so that they can benefit from the vaccine. She thanked their partners for their support and commitment to child survival and development, noting that their generous financial and technical support has been critical in achieving the significant progress made so far.
The WHO country representative to The Gambia, Dr Thomas Sukwa, thanked the government of The Gambia through the Health Ministry for its overall commitment to child survival initiatives, particularly for introducing this new vaccine in the country.
Sukwa, who also stepped in for the UNICEF rep in the country, revealed that globally, the burden of rotavirus disease is huge in both developed and developing countries. He went on to say that rotavirus is the most common cause of severe diarrhoea in children accounting for 25% to 50% of severe diarrhoea cases worldwide.
Dr Sukwa informed the gathering that an estimated 800, 000 children die each year from rotavirus disease, while over two million are hospitalised regardless of where they live. "Nearly every child is infected with rotavirus at least once before the age of five with the first infection usually occurring before the age of two," he noted.
The WHO country representative also explained that there are two orally-administered live attenuated rotavirus types of vaccines - Rotarix and Rota Teq - available in the international market that are of proven efficacy and safety. He however assured of WHO and UINCEF's continued collaboration with the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) in giving the required technical and financial support for the sustainability of the rotavirus vaccine.
The mayor of KMC, Yankuba Colley, said the availability of the vaccine must not lead to abdicating the primary responsibility of ensuring maximum standards of hygiene in every home.
As the rainy season is at its peak, the mayor urged for all to ensure that their surroundings are kept clean at all times. He appealed to parents to make sure that their children between the specified ages are immunised during this campaign.