WHO recommends worldwide use of rotavirus vaccine for children

To reduce an estimated half million deaths and two million hospitalizations from diarrhea caused by rotavirus each year, the WHO on Friday recommended that oral rotavirus vaccines be added to national childhood immunization programs, broadening access to the vaccine in the developing world, Reuters reports.

Rotavirus - "a leading cause of severe gastroenteritis, including vomiting and diarrhea, in infants and young children" - "kills an estimated 1,600 children under the age of 5 every day, mostly in Africa and Asia," Reuters writes (MacInnis, Reuters, 6/5).

GMANEWS.TV adds that 85 percent of rotavirus deaths are in Africa and Asia, "where patchy medical coverage means children with severe cases often don't receive rehydration treatment in time to survive."

Though the rotavirus vaccine has been a part of national immunization programs in Europe and the Americas for three years, until recently the vaccine had not been tested or approved for use in developing countries (GMANEWS.TV, 6/5).

The WHO's recommendation comes after recent clinical trials in South Africa and Malawi showed the oral vaccine reduced rotavirus-related diarrhea episodes in countries burdened by "high infant and child mortality, poor sanitary conditions, high diarrheal disease mortality and high maternal HIV prevalence," according to a release (WHO, 6/5).

The guidance was issued prior to the completion of clinical trials in Bangladesh, Vietnam, Ghana, Mali and Kenya, "since available evidence indicates that efficacy data can be extrapolated to populations with similar mortality patterns regardless of geographic location," the WHO said (Reuters, 6/5).

"This WHO recommendation clears the way for vaccines that will protect children in the developing world from one of the most deadly diseases they face," said Tachi Yamada, president of the Global Health Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (WHO release, 6/5).

However, because rotavirus is not the only cause of diarrhea, the WHO stressed efforts to "improve water quality, hygiene, and sanitation and ensure oral rehydration solutions and zinc supplements were available," BBC writes. While health experts worldwide lauded the WHO recommendation, the BBC also reported on UK scientists who have voiced concerns that the vaccine is too expensive, reports (BBC, 6/5).

Fourteen nations in Africa and Asia are eligible for funding to buy vaccines through the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) Alliance, which supports childhood immunization in developing countries, Bloomberg reports (Gale, Bloomberg, 6/5).

According to Reuters, GAVI, the WHO and UNICEF "are now working to develop 'a new accelerated and integrated approach' to tackle rotavirus diarrhea and pneumonia together. Those two vaccine-preventable diseases account for more than 35 percent of the world's child deaths each year, the vast majority in poor countries, the WHO said" (Reuters, 6/5).

Kaisernetwork.orgThis article is republished with kind permission from our friends at The Kaiser Family Foundation. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery of in-depth coverage of health policy developments, debates and discussions. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for Kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Copyright 2009 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.


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