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Mothers help make rotavirus vaccine a success in Sudan

A health worker holds up a rotavirus vaccine
© UNICEF Sudan/2011/Simon Ingram
A health worker holds up a rotavirus vaccine.

By Issraa El-Kogali

Khartoum, October 2011 - It’s a hot and dusty morning as the women, wearing colourful traditional toubs (wraps), begin arriving at the clinic, their babies in their arms.
For some, it is a question of standing room only -- the Samir Health Centre, in the Khartoum suburb of Jabra, is a small unit, with a waiting area that takes only three mothers comfortably.
That is the least of the concerns of the supervisor, Dr. Najla. For her, what is important is the number of mothers who understand the importance of vaccinating their babies with the new rotavirus vaccine, which protects infants against the most severe forms of diarrhea.

Sudan is the first African country to make the rotavirus vaccine widely available. It was launched here in July 2011, just in time for the rainy season, a time of year associated with a rise in diarrheal illness especially among children. Dr. Najla says this helps explain the enthusiastic response from the local community.
“Mothers were lining up to vaccinate their babies even before the clinics called to remind them of their appointment to receive the second dose,” she said.

The vaccine is given to babies in two doses -- the first when the child is between 40 days and three-months-old. The second should be given one month after the first.

At Omdurman Pediatric Hospital, doctors say they are pleased to have access to the new vaccine but that too many cases of diarrheal diseases continue to occur, especially among children who are too old to take the rotavirus vaccine.
Recent data shows that most of Sudan’s 1.2 million children below one will have an episode of diarrhea before they reach their first birthday. According to the Sudan Household Survey 2010, about 20 per cent of deaths in children under five are a result of dehydration due to diarrheal diseases.

“It is not just a matter of statistics,” said Dr. Amani Abdelmoniem, head of the Ministry of Health’s Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI). “We are very happy to introduce the rotavirus vaccine because we see the direct impact of severe dehydration on small children in our hospitals,” she adds.
UNICEF, WHO and the government are working together with health workers and other partners to maximize the rotavirus vaccine’s impact around the county and to spread information about its benefits among the general public.
“Diarrhea weakens children and makes them more vulnerable to other illnesses and the vaccine will help prevent that,” explains Ray Torres,“Diarrhea weakens children and makes them more vulnerable to other illnesses and the vaccine will help prevent that,” explains Ray Torres, UNICEF Sudan Deputy Representative. “It is exciting to be at the forefront of a new global health initiative. The work behind it is impressive.”

Sudan applied to the Geneva-based GAVI Alliance to receive the rotavirus vaccine and was the first African country to get approval in 2010 based on its capacity to reach large numbers of children of the target age. Today, the vaccine is available throughout the country, with mobile units delivering supplies to areas that are harder to reach.

UNICEF played a key role in advocating for the introduction of the vaccine in the country and has been working with partners to implement the global campaign. Support provided includes upgrade of cold chain, trainings, awareness generation and procurement of the vaccine.

Also read:

Rotavirus vaccine: One mother’s story



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