Infant about to receive an oral does of vaccine.

Every child is exposed to rotavirus, and every child deserves access to vaccine.

Countries use vaccine—and other tools—to stop the sickness

On a sweltering late-October day in 2006, Nicaraguan president Enrique Bolaños squeezed the first drops of rotavirus vaccine into a baby girl’s mouth. Some five years later, hospital diarrhea wards in the country are virtually empty. Parents diligently bring their babies to health clinics to complete all three doses of the rotavirus vaccine, and Nicaragua continues to use a variety of tools to tackle diarrhea comprehensively.

Nicaragua, though, is just the start. An estimated 800,000 children worldwide still die from severe, dehydrating diarrhea each year.

In 2009, the results of clinical trials coordinated by PATH and our partners showed that rotavirus vaccine substantially reduced severe diarrhea—by 50 percent in Asia and by 62 percent in Africa. Based on the data, the World Health Organization issued a recommendation for the global use of rotavirus vaccines. This approval clears the way for funding to help countries introduce the vaccines into their public health systems. Several are pursuing support to bring rotavirus vaccines to their country's children.

A successful mix saves lives

PATH continues to provide technical support to African and Asian countries as they prepare for vaccine introduction. We are coordinating a technical consortium of organizations to do the legwork—from building an evidence base for decision-makers to forecasting countries’ demand for vaccines. Recently, Sudan became the first country in Africa to introduce rotavirus vaccine into a national immunization program. Soon, 12 more countries will follow.

Countries in Africa are beginning to introduce rotavirus vaccine into national immunization programs.

Heeding what developing-country ministers of health told us when our work against rotavirus began, we continue to maintain a comprehensive approach toward diarrheal disease. PATH advocates for a mix of new and established interventions, such as oral rehydration therapy, improved hygiene, exclusive breastfeeding, and zinc treatment. We work with health ministries to identify the resources and establish the policies needed to reach all children with these solutions.

We're also helping to bring to market new rotavirus vaccines that may provide better protection—and drive down the price of vaccines. Right now, we’re collaborating with manufacturers in India, China, and other countries to move several vaccine candidates toward eventual introduction so that one day, diarrhea wards everywhere will be as empty as Nicaragua’s.

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Photo: PATH/Mike Wang.