Laughing boy.

Since 2006, Nicaraguan children have received vaccine to protect them from rotavirus.

One vaccine’s remarkable results show how immunization changes lives

In the Nicaraguan capital of Managua, a bustling hospital’s diarrhea ward is silent. Child-sized beds with metal railings that each used to hold two or three tiny patients still line the light green walls, but now they sit empty.

In Nicaragua, few children need the diarrhea ward anymore.

For the past five years, babies in the Central American country have swallowed a few drops of an oral vaccine to protect against a virus that infects almost all children and kills many: rotavirus. Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe diarrhea in young children the world over. Year after year it sickens more than 100 million and kills more than half a million—almost all of them in the developing world—before they reach their fifth birthdays.

Photo from 'Lifesaving solutions to protect Nicaragua's children' slideshow

In Nicaragua, children now have a better chance at protection from severe diarrhea. View the slideshow.

When a severe outbreak of rotavirus hit Nicaragua in the spring of 2005, the number of young children needing treatment overwhelmed the country’s health system. At the same time, new vaccines against rotavirus were poised to reach children in the United States. PATH already was meeting with health officials in developing countries, including Nicaragua, to raise awareness about the virus and how to stop it using vaccines as well as other prevention and treatment tools. Nicaraguan health officials saw an opportunity to protect the country’s children—and they jumped.

Planning for children’s survival

In October 2006, with PATH’s help and a donation from rotavirus vaccine manufacturer Merck & Co., Inc., an infant girl in Nicaragua became the first in her country to be vaccinated against rotavirus, just a few months after the vaccine was introduced in the United States. It marked the first time a new vaccine had reached a developing country in the same year it became available in the industrialized world. It also signaled the potential for an immense shift in child survival.

Within two years of rotavirus vaccine introduction, the number of hospitalizations for rotavirus in Nicaragua had dropped by 60 percent.

This dramatic result is a heartening example of the power of vaccines, one of the most successful interventions in public health. It’s also an example of how PATH approaches development and delivery of vaccines to combat the biggest childhood killers. We help countries assess the need for vaccine. We identify the partners that must come together to fill the need. We encourage development of vaccines that have the best promise of alleviating unnecessary suffering. And we ensure successful and sustainable delivery of those vaccines and complementary interventions worldwide.

Next Assessing the problem

Photos, from top: Miguel Alvarez, PATH/Mike Wang.