Arrival of rotavirus vaccines in Cameroon: The end of the long wait

A baby in Ghana receives the rotavirus vaccine from the GAVI Alliance in October 2013 – now babies in Cameroon can do the same! Photo credit: GAVI Alliance. 

Dr. Clarisse Loe Loumou of GAVI’s Civil Society Organization Constituency makes a major announcement that will affect the health of millions of children around the globe.

When I was a pediatrician in charge of the gastroenterology and pediatric nutrition ward at the Centre Mère et Enfant—one of the largest pediatric recruitment centers in Yaoundé and all of Cameroon—severe and fatal diarrhea was a regular part of my day. In my country, Cameroon, diarrhea is one of the top killers of children under five. Rotavirus, the leading cause of severe and fatal diarrhea in children worldwide, kills more than 5,800 Cameroonian children under five each year.

It is big news today that rotavirus vaccines are finally being introduced in our national immunization program!

Rotavirus is an old story for us in Cameroon; it is a disease that unfortunately has already done a lot of damage. More than 15 years have passed since the first studies in 1995 demonstrated the prevalence of rotavirus diarrhea. Years later, the heavy burden was confirmed by World Health Organization rotavirus surveillance led by Dr. Njiki Kinkela. This is why, when I wrote a blog three years ago about GAVI’s approval of Cameroon’s application for the introduction of rotavirus vaccines, I concluded on both a hopeful note, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the vaccine, and a desperate note, saddened by the knowledge that thousands of children would unjustly die from rotavirus diarrhea during the wait. Today, our children no longer have to wait: the vaccine is here at last.

With this new vaccine, we are taking an important step towards reducing illness and death in our infants and young children. We owe this progress to the strong and sustained political will and direct involvement of the Minister of Health and the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) to introduce this vaccine. We also must not forget that none of this would have been possible without funding support from the GAVI Alliance, whose upcoming replenishment pledging conference will be crucial for our country.

Civil society must take the message closer to the communities to be in line with the Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP), which calls for ownership of vaccination and vaccine campaigns by the communities they serve in order to achieve effective and optimal immunization coverage.

We are ready to do this through the PROVARESSC platform, a civil society forum for the promotion of vaccination and health system strengthening in Cameroon, which has already been supporting the EPI for several months in social mobilization and communication efforts particularly for vaccination campaigns against polio.

Watch now: GAVI’s rotavirus vaccine rollout in Africa

Cameroon has strong vaccination champions, including our former MP Amougou Mezang and my fellow pediatrician Dr. Ngosso Tetanye, who support civil society’s messages and are committed to increasing the visibility of vaccination in the general public and keeping vaccination well positioned in the political agenda. There also will be an opportunity to raise the profile and urgency of vaccination during the next Congress of the UNAPSA (Union of National African Pediatric Societies and Associations), which will be hosted by Cameroon in November 2014.

Indeed, much remains to be done. Our country is, in effect, in turbulent times with a drop in immunization coverage, inequality in coverage among districts and cities, and most importantly, the recent resurgence of polio. The introduction of rotavirus vaccines should not be another missed opportunity to boost our routine immunization program alongside regular vaccination campaigns. Resting is not an option; we must strengthen efforts to promote vaccination! We now have all the tools.

Please join us in celebrating this amazing news. Leave a comment!