Mexico City, July 7, 2004 (PAHO)—Rotavirus "is a major, major public health priority" for Mexico and for the Americas, Mexican Health Minister Dr. Julio Frenk said today at the opening of a global symposium on rotavirus, where health experts will spend three days discussing the latest information about the deadly disease.

Dr. Frenk told some 400 people attending the meeting that deaths from diarrheal disease "have dropped dramatically" in Mexico, since strong measures were taken to control it after the cholera epidemic that struck the Americas in 1991.

"Vaccines can be a very cost-effective intervention and Mexico is a world leader in immunizing children, with 98 percent coverage of children under five years old and 95 percent coverage of children under one year," Frenk said.

The rotavirus symposium is being convened by the Pan American Health Organization, (PAHO/WHO), the Albert B. Sabin Vaccine Institute, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC,) and the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Rotavirus, which kills half a million children each year worldwide, is the most common cause of severe diarrhea, hospitalizations, and deaths among children, said Dr. Jon K. Andrus, who heads PAHO’s immunization efforts, including the introduction of new vaccines into the Expanded Program on Immunization. Andrus said that there were 15,282 deaths from Rotavirus in Latin America and 75,000 children were hospitalized.

Though no vaccine against rotavirus is currently on the market, several are being developed and rotavirus is a high priority for developing countries with limited health services, where 85 percent of the 500,000 deaths occur, most from severe dehydration.

Vaccines currently under development could be introduced into the routine program of childhood immunizations within 1-3 years and could prevent this most common cause of severe morbidity and mortality in children. The international community has recognized the accelerated development and introduction of rotavirus vaccines as a high priority.

Experts including Andrus, Dr. Ruth Bishop, discoverer of rotavirus, Dr. Roger Glass of CDC, Dr. Albert Kapikian, inventor of the rotavirus vaccine, and Dr. Ciro de Quadros of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, who led the successful polio eradication effort in the Americas, are in Mexico to discuss all aspects of rotavirus and rotavirus vaccines. Also present are vaccine industry representatives involved in rotavirus vaccine development, and experts from leading public health and donor organizations, including PAHO, WHO, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, and the Rotavirus Vaccine Program.

New data on the extent and burden of the virus in developing countries, and insights into its biology and pathology are also due to be reported at the symposium on rotavirus, being held at the Presidente Intercontinental Hotel, in Mexico City. Topics of the main sessions include epidemiology and disease burden of rotavirus, its virology, pathogenesis and immunity, past experience and results with new rotavirus vaccines, the health economic and financing of the vaccines and a roundtable on perspectives in vaccine introduction.

For more information please contact: Daniel Epstein of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) at the Intercontinental Hotel in Mexico, 52 55 53277700, or at (631) 220 7869, or Raymond MacDougall of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, at 52 55 53277700. Or visit www.internationalrotavirus.com.

Cases of Rotavirus Higher than Previously Thought

Mexico City, July 7, 2004 (PAHO)—Cases of rotavirus worldwide are higher than previously thought, according to studies by Dr. Umesh Parashar of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) presented at a global symposium on rotavirus here today.

There are now over 608,000 deaths annually from rotavirus, Parashar said. His previous estimates showed around 440,000 deaths. Total deaths from all diarrheas are 1.56 million worldwide, with 39 percent of those now attributable to rotavirus, instead of the previous estimate of 22 percent, he said. "Rotavirus infections are ubiquitous and nearly 95 percent of children worldwide are infected by 5 years of age," he said, noting that "improvements in hygiene and sanitation are unlikely to have a significant impact on (rotavirus) disease prevention."

"Compared with children in industrialized countries, those in developing countries are infected at a younger age, have year-round disease with less distinct seasonality, are more often infected with unusual or multiple strains of rotavirus, and are more likely to suffer from severe outcomes of disease," Parashar said.

The rotavirus symposium was convened by the Pan American Health Organization, (PAHO/WHO), the Albert B. Sabin Vaccine Institute, the CDC, and the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Jon K. Andrus, PAHO's head of immunization efforts, said the aim of the Organization’s vaccine programs is to reduce inequities and make all vaccines, including new ones, affordable for poor families. The PAHO revolving fund, he said, is used to buy vaccines in bulk to reduce costs and make them more widely available and could be used for new rotavirus vaccines.

In Mexico, 2,000 children die of diarrhea each year, according to Dr. Romeo Rodriguez of the National Immunization Council of Mexico, and a vaccine could cut those deaths by 40 percent. Each episode of diarrhea costs families an average of US$103, which represents 86 percent of the monthly income for families living on minimum wage.

Though no vaccine against rotavirus is currently on the market, several are being developed and rotavirus is a high priority for developing countries where 85 percent of the deaths occur, most from severe dehydration. Rodriquez said Mexico was likely to be the first country to introduce a vaccine against Rotavirus now under development, perhaps by next April.

Dr. Ciro de Quadros of the Sabin Vaccine Institute said costs of a rotavirus vaccine are not yet known, but its effects would be that physicians and services would see many fewer diarrhea cases and deaths.

Experts including Dr. Ruth Bishop, discoverer of rotavirus, Dr. Albert Kapikian, inventor of the rotavirus vaccine, and many others are in Mexico to discuss all aspects of rotavirus. Experts from leading public health and donor organizations, including PAHO, WHO, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, and the Rotavirus Vaccine Program are all making presentations.

For more information please contact: Daniel Epstein of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) at the Intercontinental Hotel in Mexico, 52 55 53277700, or at (631) 220 7869, or Raymond MacDougall of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, at 52 55 53277700. Or visit www.internationalrotavirus.com.

Los casos de rotavirus son más de lo que previamente se pensaba

Ciudad de México, 7 de julio de 2004 (OPS)—Los casos de rotavirus en el mundo son más de los que previamente se pensaba, de acuerdo a estudios presentados por el Dr. Umesh Parashar de los Centros para el Control y la Prevención de Enfermedades (CDC) en el simposio sobre rotavirus que se realiza en la capital mexicana.

Hoy en día, ocurren 608.000 muertes anuales por rotavirus en el mundo, dijo Parashar. La estimación previa rondaba las 440.000 muertes. La cifra total de muertes por diarreas es de 1,56 millones a nivel mundial, y un 39% de ellas son causadas por este virus. Antes se consideraba que este porcentaje era del 22%, dijo el experto.

"Las infecciones por rotavirus son altamente prevalentes y casi el 95% de los niños se infectan a los 5 años", agregó, destacando que "las mejoras en la higiene y el saneamiento tienen poca probabilidad de tener un repercusión significativa sobre la prevención de esta enfermedad". "Comparado con los niños de países industrializados, los que viven en países en desarrollo se infectan a más temprana edad, y a menudo con cepas más inusuales de rotavirus, con formas más severas de la enfermedad", completó.

El simposio -que se realiza en el Hotel Presidente Intercontinental del Distrito Federal- es convocado por la Organización Panamericana de la Salud (OPS), el Sabin Vaccine Institute, los Centros para el Control y la Prevención de Enfermedades (CDC) y los Institutos Nacionales de Salud de los Estados Unidos. Participan líderes de salud pública y, entre otras, la Alianza Global para Vacunas e Inmunización y el Programa de Vacuna Antirrotavírica.

El Dr. Jon Andrus, líder de los esfuerzos de inmunización de la OPS, dijo que estos esfuerzos tienen como objetivo reducir las inequidades y hacer que todas las vacunas, incluyendo las nuevas, estén disponibles para las familias más pobres. El fondo de la OPS para vacunas, que compra vacunas a bajo costo, podrá ser útil para las vacunas antirrotavíricas.

En México, 2.000 niños mueren cada año a causa de la diarrea, según el Dr. Romeo Rodríguez, del Consejo Nacional de Inmunización de México. Y una vacuna puede reducir estas muertes en un 40%. Cada episodio de diarreas cuesta a las familias un promedio de 103 dólares, que representa el 86% del ingreso mensual promedio.

Aunque todavía no hay una vacuna contra el rotavirus, existen muchas investigaciones en marcha. La búsqueda de esta vacuna es una prioridad para los países en desarrollo, en donde ocurren el 85% de las muertes, especialmente por deshidratación. Según los expertos, las vacunas servirán para inmunizar a niños de uno a 3 años y podrán prevenir contra la enfermedad diarreica. México preveé introducir una vacuna contra el rotavirus, que aún está en desarrollo, tal vez para el próximo abril. El Dr. Ciro de Quadros, del Sabin Vaccine Institute dijo que todavía no se conocen los costos de esta vacuna, pero sus efectos serán notorios en la reducción de casos y muertes por diarreas. La OPS fue establecida en 1902 y es la organización de salud pública más antigua del mundo. Es la Oficina Regional para las Américas de la Organización Mundial de la Salud y trabaja con los países para mejorar la salud y elevar la calidad de vida de sus habitantes.

Contacto: Daniel Epstein de la Organización Panamericana de la Salud (OPS) en el Intercontinental Hotel el Mexico, 52 55 53277700, o al (631) 220 7869, o Raymond MacDougall del Sabin Vaccine Institute, at 52 55 53277700. O visítewww.internationalrotavirus.com.

Immunization can drive economic growth, Harvard expert says

Mexico City, July 8, 2004 (PAHO)—Immunization programs can be highly effective tools for promoting economic growth and poverty reduction in developing countries, according to Dr. David Bloom of the Harvard School of Public Health.

Bloom's remarks at the Sixth International Rotavirus Symposium here underscored the potential benefit of upcoming new vaccines against rotavirus, a disease that kills 608,000 children every year, representing 39 percent of the 1.56 million deaths from all diarrhea worldwide.

"A ten-year gain in life expectancy translates into nearly one additional percentage point in annual income growth," Bloom said. "This is significant given that the world economy grows by 2-3% a year. Ten-year life expectancy gains are within the grasp of many developing countries."

A major means of increasing life expectancy is to lower the infant mortality rate, which can vary by a factor of more than 50 between developed and developing countries, Bloom said, and one of the main ways to decrease infant mortality is through vaccination against childhood diseases.

Approximately six million children a year succumb to communicable diseases, many of which could be prevented by expanded access to immunization. Based on the latest figures reported at the meeting, rotavirus causes approximately ten percent of those deaths.

Rotavirus is considered by experts to be a particularly promising disease to target for global childhood vaccination. "Rotavirus vaccines are the low hanging fruit for new vaccine development," said Roger Glass, chief of the Viral Gastroenteritis Section at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. "The science of rotavirus vaccines is well understood, in a way that is not true for malaria, TB and HIV. The disease burden is large, so the benefits will be great."

Bloom calculated that the rate of return of investment in immunization falls in the range of 12 to 18 percent, placing it on par with investment in basic education as an instrument of economic growth and development. Nonetheless, Bloom and other speakers pointed out that vaccines will be of benefit only to the extent that they are accessible and affordable.

Dr. Julio Frenk Mora, Mexico's Secretary of Health, noted the need for "prevention through the universal application of a safe vaccine that is both affordable and effective."

Two vaccines are currently in the final phase of clinical trials, each with more than 60,000 children. One is being developed by GlaxoSmithKline and the other by Merck. The quest for vaccines has taken on added urgency, according to experts at the rotavirus symposium here. In Mexico, a vaccine could cut the 2,000 rotavirus deaths a year in that country by 40 percent, said Dr. Romeo Rodriguez of the National Immunization Council of Mexico, who noted that Mexico was likely to be the first country to introduce a vaccine against Rotavirus now under development, perhaps by next April.

The rotavirus symposium was convened by the Pan American Health Organization, (PAHO/WHO), the Albert B. Sabin Vaccine Institute, the CDC, and U.S. National Institutes of Health. Some 400 experts are in Mexico to discuss all aspects of rotavirus. Leading public health and donor organizations, including PAHO, WHO, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, and the Rotavirus Vaccine Program are making presentations.

For more information please contact: Daniel Epstein of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) at the Intercontinental Hotel in Mexico, 52 55 53277700, or at (631) 220 7869, or Raymond MacDougall of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, at 52 55 53277700. Or visit www.internationalrotavirus.com.

Health Officials From 16 Countries Ask Sustainable Programs For New, Old Vaccines

Mexico City, July 9, 2004 (PAHO)—Health officials from 16 countries today asked for budgetary support "to ensure the sustainability of the existing vaccination programs and the introduction of new vaccines," at the conclusion of a global symposium on rotavirus, a diarrheal disease that kills over 600,000 children worldwide every year.

"Our countries have made tremendous advances in vaccines, and our governments have a responsibility to their people to continue these advances. We have the challenge of reducing infant mortality, and not only can we do it but we must do it," said Dr. Rosario Quiroga, vice minister of health of Bolivia.

In a declaration issued at the closing of the rotavirus symposium, representatives of health ministries from 16 countries in the Americas noted that new rotavirus vaccines "could reduce mortality from the disease by up to 60 percent if included in national immunization programs of our Region." The countries were Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Paraguay, Saint Vincent, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela.

The officials said they "call upon the Pan American Health Organization, and its Revolving Fund for Vaccine Procurement, to work with bilateral and multilateral organizations, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, and with vaccine manufacturers, to facilitate the introduction of vaccines against rotavirus at prices accessible to all countries of the region as soon as they become available."

The symposium, convened by the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), the Albert B. Sabin Vaccine Institute, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the U.S. National Institutes of Health, featured more than 400 scientists, health experts, and industry representatives involved in rotavirus vaccine development discussing all aspects of rotavirus. The health officials in their declaration said "Treatment of rotavirus incurs high costs and its economic impact is great in Latin America, where approximately 15,000 deaths and 75,000 hospitalizations occur each year," and noted that two "promising vaccines are close to entering the market."

"This new technology should be made available to infants to prevent disease," they said, and immunization should continue receiving support, "with the highest political priority, as a public good for the region."

They also agreed to "search for mechanisms within national budgetary processes to negotiate, at the highest policy level, in order to ensure the sustainability of the existing vaccination programs and the introduction of new vaccines."

Dr. Jon Andrus, who heads PAHO`s vaccine programs, said "The commitment, experience and leadership of the countries of the Americas in immunization is amazing." Today, 19 countries have vaccine laws, and "The Americas lead the world in advances in immunization," Andrus said.

For more information please contact: Daniel Epstein of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) at the Intercontinental Hotel in Mexico, 52 55 53277700, or at (631) 220 7869, or Raymond MacDougall of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, at 52 55 53277700. Or visit www.internationalrotavirus.com.

Oficiales de Salud de 16 países piden programas sostenibles para vacunas nuevas y viejas

México, DF, 9 de julio, 2004 (OPS)—Oficiales de salud de 16 paìses pidieron hoy apoyo presupuestario "a fin de garantizar la sostenibilidad de programas de vacunación existentes y la introducción de vacunas nuevas", al concluir un simposio internacional sobre rotavirus, la enfermedad diarreica que mata a 608.000 niños en el mundo cada año.

"Nuestros países han realizado esfuerzos importantes, incrementando el presupuesto de los programas de inmunización", dijo la Dra. Rosario Quiroga, viceministra de Salud de Bolivia. "El tema es la responsabilidad del estado hacia la población. Tenemos retos para reducir la mortalidad infantil. Sí se puede, y también se debe", agregó.

En su declaración, al cierre del simposio, representantes de ministerios de Salud de los 16 países dijeron que "las vacunas contra el rotavirus podrán reducir en un 60% la mortalidad por rotavirus, a través de su inclusión en los programas nacionales de inmunización de nuestra región". Los países son: Argentina, Bolivia, Brasil, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, México, Nicaragua, Panamá, Perú, Paraguay, Saint Vincent, Surinam, Trinidad y Tobago, y Venezuela.

Los oficiales acordaron "instar a la OPS y a su Fondo Rotatorio para la Adquisición de Vacunas a que trabajen junto a organizaciones bilaterales y multilaterales, la Alianza Mundial para Vacunas e Inmunización, y con los fabricantes de vacunas, con el propósito de facilitar la introducción de la vacuna contra el rotavirus, tan pronto como esté disponible, con precios asequibles para todos los países de la región."

También acordaron "continuar respaldando a las inmunizaciones como un bien público de la región como primera prioridad política, demostrar los logros en la salud pública como resultado de la vacunación universal, y buscar mecanismos dentro de los procesos presupuestarios nacionales para la negociación con los funcionarios de más alto nivel a fin de garantizar la sostenibilidad de programas de vacunación existentes y la introducción de vacunas nuevas."

Los oficiales destacaron que "el tratamiento del rotavirus implica un costo alto y tiene una repercusión económica importante en América Latina, donde produce aproximadamente 15.000 muertes y 75.000 hospitalizaciones por año." También dijeron que "dos vacunas con buenas perspectivas están próximas a ingresar al mercado", y que "es necesario poner esta tecnología nueva al alcance de los lactantes a fin de evitar enfermedades prevenibles por vacunación."

El Dr. Jon Andrus, jefe del programa de inmunización de la OPS, dijo que "el compromiso, la experiencia y el liderazgo en vacunación de los países de las Américas es algo increíble. Con 19 países que tienen leyes de vacunación obligatoria, tenemos el liderazgo en el mundo." La OPS fue establecida en 1902 y es la organización de salud pública más antigua del mundo. Es la Oficina Regional para las Américas de la Organización Mundial de la Salud y trabaja con los países para mejorar la salud y elevar la calidad de vida de sus habitantes.

Contacto: Daniel Epstein de la Organización Panamericana de la Salud (OPS) en el Intercontinental Hotel el Mexico, 52 55 53277700, o al (631) 220 7869, o Raymond MacDougall del Sabin Vaccine Institute, at 52 55 53277700. O visítewww.internationalrotavirus.com.