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Malawi to protect thousands of children's lives with rotavirus vaccines

October 29, 2012 by PATH

Malawi becomes the 10th GAVI-supported country to introduce vaccines against most common cause of severe and fatal diarrhoea

Contacts for media requests: Dan Thomas, GAVI, +41 22 909 6524 office, +41 79 251 8581 mobile,
Frédérique Tissandier, GAVI, +41 22 909 6521 office, +41 79 300 8253 mobile,
Candace J. Rosen, PATH, +1 202 431 9437 mobile,
Jen Farber, GMMB for ROTA Council, +1 202 277 6089 mobile, Contact for photo and video requests: Myriam Gaillard, GAVI, +41 22 909 6528 office,

Geneva, October 29, 2012—Malawi has become the latest in a growing number of African countries to introduce rotavirus vaccine into its national immunisation programme, offering its children the best possible protection against the primary cause of severe and fatal diarrhoea.

“This is an important day for all the children of Malawi,” said GAVI Alliance CEO, Dr Seth Berkley. “Rotavirus immunisation is their best hope for protection against rotavirus disease and the deadly dehydrating diarrhoea it can cause.”

Diarrhoea is a leading killer of children in Malawi, causing approximately 11 percent of deaths in children under five years of age. Rotavirus infection causes over 2,500 of these deaths.

Malawi is the fourth GAVI-eligible country in Africa to roll out rotavirus vaccines, following in the footsteps of Sudan, Ghana and Rwanda; in total, 10 GAVI-eligible countries around the world have now added this life-saving vaccine to their national immunisation programmes.

Malawi helped pave the way for Africa’s introduction of rotavirus vaccines. From 2006-2009, a pivotal clinical study commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO) was conducted in Malawi and South Africa to better understand how these vaccines work among the infants and children in low-income countries in Africa with high death rates from diarrhoeal disease. This clinical study showed that rotavirus vaccines reduced severe rotavirus disease among Malawian children in their first year of life, when they are at greatest risk of severe dehydration from diarrhoea by nearly 50 percent and all-causes of diarrhoea by 25 percent.

In June 2009, based in part on this study, WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts recommended that rotavirus vaccines be included in all national immunisation programmes.

“The trials in South Africa and Malawi were instrumental in demonstrating that rotavirus vaccines significantly reduced rotavirus diarrhoea in impoverished, high-mortality settings,” said Dr. Kathy Neuzil, Director of Vaccine Access and Delivery at PATH, member of the Rotavirus Organization of Technical Allies (ROTA) Council, and Clinical Director of the Rotavirus Vaccine Program, which oversaw the Malawi and South Africa study. “It is in low-income countries, where disease burden is heaviest and access to treatments is most limited, that these vaccines will have the greatest impact and save the most lives.”

Today’s introduction comes less than a year after Malawi successfully rolled out pneumococcal vaccine with GAVI support.

“Diarrhoea and pneumonia are two of the leading killers of children in Malawi accounting for nearly 25 percent of under-five deaths,” said Right Honourable Khumbo Hastings Kachali, Vice President of the Republic of Malawi and Minister of Health. “We know that adding lifesaving rotavirus vaccines to our childhood immunisation programme will dramatically improve the health and well-being of our children by substantially reducing the severe and fatal diarrhoea that our families have been grappling with for so long.”

If used in all GAVI-eligible countries, rotavirus vaccines could prevent an estimated 180,000 deaths and avert six million clinic and hospital visits each year, thereby saving an estimated US $68 million per year in treatment costs.

Accelerating access to rotavirus vaccines can not only save the lives of Malawian children but it can also reduce the health burden of rotavirus disease thereby contributing to poverty reduction and a growing economy.

“Policymakers, donors, and the global health community must work together to help overcome the challenges to getting rotavirus vaccines and other diarrhoeal disease interventions to all children worldwide,” said Dr Seth Berkley.

GAVI and its partners plan to support the introduction of the life-saving rotavirus vaccines in at least 40 of the world’s poorest countries by 2015, immunising more than 50 million children.

About GAVI

The GAVI Alliance is a public-private partnership committed to saving children’s lives and protecting people’s health by increasing access to immunisation in developing countries. The Alliance brings together developing country and donor governments, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank, the vaccine industry, technical agencies, civil society, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other private philanthropists. GAVI uses innovative finance mechanisms, including co-financing by recipient countries, to secure sustainable funding and adequate supply of quality vaccines. Since 2000, GAVI has financed the immunisation of an additional 370 million children and prevented more than 5.5 million premature deaths. GAVI is funded by governments, as well as private, corporate and foundation donors.

For more information, please visit

About ROTA Council

Diarrhea is one of the world’s leading killers of children, and rotavirus is the most common cause of severe diarrhea. Every child is vulnerable. Each year, rotavirus kills nearly half a million children and hospitalizes millions more, despite the fact that safe, effective vaccines exist that can prevent it. Rotavirus vaccines are the most powerful tool to protect children, yet families in many parts of the world do not have access to them. The Rotavirus Organization of Technical Allies (ROTA) Council is working to change this by providing the evidence policymakers need to accelerate the introduction of rotavirus vaccines. To learn more, please visit