In an article published today on Reuters, Sabin Executive Vice President Dr. Ciro de Quadros and Tony Nelson of the ROTA Council describe how actions taken by Latin American countries to protect children from rotavirus, the leading cause of diarhea hospitalizations and deaths, could be used in other regions of the world severely impacted by this killer disease of children.
How purchasing power can help prevent child deaths: lessons for Asia from the Americas
While the recent cholera outbreaks tend to dominate health news coming out of Haiti, there is another dangerous disease that should be on the front page, but isn’t. It’s rotavirus diarrhoea. Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe diarrhoea in children worldwide, and the devastating dehydration it can cause is responsible for nearly half of all diarrhoea deaths in Haitian children under age 5.
In a bold, headline-grabbing move, the Haitian government is taking action by arming its children with the best defense available—rotavirus vaccines. This week, with the support of the GAVI Alliance, Haiti will introduce rotavirus vaccines into its national immunization program, joining 16 other Latin American countries that have already introduced these vaccines. Haiti is the last of five GAVI-eligible countries in the Americas to introduce rotavirus vaccines. Vaccines are an essential tool in the fight against rotavirus because improvements in drinking water, sanitation and hand-washing, which can prevent other forms of diarrhoea such as cholera, do not adequately prevent the spread of rotavirus.
As a region, Latin America has taken on rotavirus aggressively and the progress is profound. In Mexico and Brazil, deaths from all causes of diarrhoea among children under age 5 declined by approximately 30 percent following the introduction of rotavirus vaccines in these countries’ national immunization programs. Sharp declines have also been observed in child hospitalizations for rotavirus, as well as diarrhoea in general, in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Mexico and Brazil following rotavirus vaccine introduction.
Today, the countries with the greatest rotavirus burden—meaning not only deaths, but also hospitalizations and doctor visits—are found in Africa and Asia. Africa is making progress and vaccines are being introduced, but Asia has a long way to go. Only two Asian countries—the Philippines, which has implemented a targeted vaccine introduction strategy, and Thailand, which has made the vaccines available to an initial single region—have introduced these vaccines. With nearly half of all rotavirus deaths occurring in Asia, there is an urgent need for action in the region. The progress made in Latin America could illustrate a path forward.