Zambia launches multifaceted attack to combat rotavirus and other causes of diarrhea

Check out this great news on rotavirus, courtesy of Candace Rosen at PATH (from PATH’s RotaFlash newsletter), which you all helped to support with your advocacy for GAVI last spring!

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Diarrhea is the third biggest killer of children under five years of age in Zambia (40 per day; 15,000 each year), and rotavirus, the most common cause of severe and fatal diarrhea in young children, is responsible for nearly one-third of those deaths. As in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the region with the highest rates of rotavirus mortality worldwide, rotavirus contributes heavily to the tremendous drain on the health and economic resources in Zambia:

  • Approximately 41 percent of young children hospitalized for severe diarrhea are infected with rotavirus.
  • An estimated 4,506 children under age five die from rotavirus diarrhea annually.

Vaccines are the best way to protect children in Zambia and the rest of the world from severe rotavirus diarrhea and the deadly dehydrating diarrhea that it causes.

Rotavirus vaccines play an essential and life-saving role in comprehensive diarrhea control strategies and are already saving lives and improving health in the countries where they are in use. A coordinated approach that combines rotavirus vaccines with other prevention and treatment methods, including oral rehydration therapy, zinc, breastfeeding, improvements in water, sanitation and hygiene as well as proper nutrition, will achieve the greatest impact on diarrheal disease morbidity and mortality.

Last week, an innovative, multisectoral partnership between the Zambian Ministry of Health (MoH), the Centre for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia (CIDRZ), and Absolute Return for Kids (ARK) launched the Programme for Awareness and Elimination of Diarrhea (PAED) to strengthen Zambia’s capacity to provide comprehensive diarrheal disease prevention and treatment strategies, including the introduction of rotavirus vaccines in the capital, Lusaka, to reduce the huge number of child deaths from diarrhea.

PAED’s coordinated approach to addressing the substantial burden of diarrheal disease in Zambia includes:

  • Vaccinating 84,000 children in Lusaka, Zambia, against rotavirus by the end of 2012 with a goal of eventually vaccinating more than 700,000 Zambian children against rotavirus by 2015.
  • Training more than 500 health workers to administer vaccines, oral rehydration therapy, zinc and other diarrheal disease health interventions.
  • Providing community-level education on diarrhea treatment and vaccination, and other prevention strategies, including proper hygiene, hand washing, nutrition and exclusive breastfeeding.

PAED hopes that the introduction of rotavirus vaccines in Lusaka and the scale-up of health worker training and community-level education will provide the MoH with the implementation and public health experience necessary to expand its program and vaccinate all Zambian children. Zambia is a GAVI-eligible country, and the MoH aims to work with GAVI to support its nationwide introduction and sustained use of rotavirus vaccines.

In addition to the contributions of CIDRZ and ARK to PAED, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will support PAED’s monitoring and evaluation efforts, and GlaxoSmithKline has donated vaccines for PAED’s Lusaka rotavirus vaccination program in 2012.

RotaFlash is an e-news alert that provides breaking scientific news and updates on progress made by PATH and partners (GAVI, WHO, UNICEF, US CDC, manufacturers, universities, countries) toward increasing global access to vaccines against rotavirus, the leading cause of severe and fatal diarrhea in young children worldwide. RotaFlash is produced by PATH and funded by the GAVI Alliance and is one of the main advocacy and communication vehicles used to support accelerated introduction and access to rotavirus vaccines where children need them most urgently. If you’d like to learn more about rotavirus or receive PATH’s periodic RotaFlash newsletter, email rotavirusvaccine@path.org.