Rwanda rolls out fundamental measles and rubella vaccine

Agnès Binagwaho, minister of health of Rwanda, discusses the progressive health measures being taken in her country. 

Every night I go to bed knowing that the health of the children of Rwanda and of the world is better. This is what moves me forward every day. This week, I am very proud, because Rwanda was the first country in Africa to introduce the conjugate measles and rubella vaccine, thanks to GAVI’s support.

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Agnès Binagwaho, presenting on the progress of immunization in Rwanda. Photo credit: www.jambonews.net

This new vaccine is fundamental, not just for Rwanda, but for the whole world. Rubella is a very serious disease, particularly in pregnant women, because it can cause the death of the fetus or congenital malformations (congenital rubella syndrome). There is no specific treatment. Few people are protected against this disease.

In Europe, it was brought under control by immunization, but the disease is still extremely widespread in Africa. The conjugate vaccine will also protect people more effectively from measles, a disease that is still extremely widespread in Africa. Rwanda has brought this disease under control, but there is still more work to be done. For both measles and rubella,immunization is the only way to avoid and control two potentially lethal viruses.

In just four days, from March 12-15, we have introduced the M-R vaccine throughout the country. All the stakeholders in public health, in every city and village, were made certain that no child was forgotten. Even nursing school students had been enlisted. The healthcare workers worked almost around the clock to immunize almost five million children between nine months and 14 years of age.

Children under five years old were immunised in health centers while school-age children were vaccinated in schools. This is the first time that immunization took place in schools. We tested this approach with the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine and it worked well. Before this campaign, we improved and modernised our cold chain to ensure that all the citizens of Rwanda received safe and effective vaccines.

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Working around the clock to immunize children from nine months to 14 years old. Photo credit: nicolebaumann.de

And it doesn’t stop here. In January 2014, the conjugate measles and rubella vaccine will be incorporated into our routine immunization programme. This means that the people of Rwanda will access to all 11 vaccines recommended by the World Health Organization for routine immunisation.

To date, we have already introduced vaccines to fight one of the leading causes of pneumonia and the vaccine to fight diarrhea caused by the rotavirus. We have also introduced the HPV vaccine. Finally, Rwanda has had the pentavalent vaccine for a long time to fight diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae type B.

Our performance is remarkable. Rwanda’s DTP coverage rate is over 95%, seldom seen in Africa. These results are being achieved thanks to political will and the support of the people, not to mention support from our international partners and donors.

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Rwandans are working actively to promote health for all people, starting in infancy. Photo credit: www.gavialliance.org

The government and I are truly involved and engaged in promoting health for all the people. With this cohesion, all of us are able to move forward in the same direction, Rwanda has already more than halved its child mortality with our high routine immunisation coverage contributing to this result.

Rwandans have confidence in us. We have never lied to them. For this campaign, everyone was enlisted, including myself, because Rwandans must be convinced if immunization is to work. The people are always part of the solution.

Dr Agnès Binagwaho, is a pediatrician and serves as the Minister of Health of Rwanda. She is also a Senior Lecturer of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine of Harvard Medical School.

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