Zimbabwe officially launches rotavirus vaccine
By Richard Nyamanhindi
The Ministry of Health and Child Care in Zimbabwe in partnership with UNICEF, WHO, the Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program and GAVI Alliance have officially unveiled a new low-cost vaccine against a deadly virus that kills about half a million children around the world each year.
Rotavirus causes dehydration and severe diarrhea and spreads through contaminated hands and surfaces and is one of the major killers of children under five in Africa in general and Zimbabwe in particular.
Since introducing the vaccine on the 1st of May this year, the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) reports that the new vaccine is saving the lives of thousands of children in the country.
The vaccine costs USD5 to administer to every child and will benefit more than 436,000 children every year. International pharmaceutical companies such as GlaxoSmithKline and Merck produce similar vaccines but each dose costs around USD40.
Speaking at the launch in Harare, the Minister of Health and Child Care in a speech read on his behalf by the Principal Director Curative Services, Mr. Christopher Tapfumaneyi noted how vaccinations have contributed to the reduction of childhood mortality and morbidity in the country.
The Minister also commended the various partners such as WHO, UNICEF and GAVI who have assisted the Government in saving the lives of children through these various initiatives.
“There has been a vast improvement of immunization coverage in the country from a mere 28 per cent in 1982, to 89 per cent in 2006 and 95 per cent in 2013.”
“For example, measles have declined from thousands of cases every year a few years ago to none today. There have been no cases of polio for more than a decade and we hope that the rotavirus vaccine will make diarrhea related diseases a thing of the past,” the Minister said.
The WHO Representative, Dr. David Okello urged the Government to include the rotavirus vaccine in all the national immunization programmes and added that in countries were the rotavirus is responsible for more than 10 per cent of childhood deaths the adoption of the rota vaccine is strongly recommended.
“This is an important occasion against rotavirus infections, the most severe and lethal cause of childhood diarrhea, responsible for approximately a quarter of a million deaths of small children in Africa each year.”
“In Zimbabwe we have recommended that the first dose of the vaccine is given at six weeks followed by a second dose at 10 weeks,” said the WHO Representative.
UNICEF Representative, Reza Hossaini in a speech read on his behalf by Dr. Geoffrey Acaye, highlighted the impact the vaccine will have on saving the lives and improving the health of children in the country.
“It is estimated that 9 per cent of childhood deaths in Zimbabwe are due to severe diarrhoea. In this regard, the introduction of the rotavirus vaccine will save lives and improve the health of children in Zimbabwe.”
“Swift and significant declines in hospitalisations and deaths due to the rotavirus have been observed in many of the countries that have introduced rotavirus vaccines into their national immunisation program. Research has also found that use of rotavirus vaccines may protect unvaccinated children and adults by reducing transmission,” said the UNICEF Representative.
Diarrhoea is a leading killer of children globally, causing more than 450,000 deaths each year in children under five and is responsible for millions of hospitalisations and clinic visits. Nearly a quarter of a million (232,000 – more than 600 each day) African children die from the deadly, dehydrating diarrhoea caused by rotavirus infection every year, accounting for more than 50 per cent of the global total.
The high burden of rotavirus disease in African children, coupled with the power of rotavirus vaccines to prevent childhood deaths and hospitalisations, underscores the incredible potential for the introduction of rotavirus vaccine to save children’s lives.
The rotavirus vaccine was first licensed in the United States of America in 1999, and subsequently modified into the better and safer-to--use versions in 2006. To date, Zimbabwe is among the 68 countries that have introduced the rotavirus vaccine in their national immunization programs.