Rotavirus vaccine demonstration to help accelerate progress against a leading killer of children

September 22, 2006 by PATH

Eileen Quinn, 202.454.5005,
Jean-Pierre Le Calvez, GAVI Alliance, 41.22.909.6520,

Seattle and Geneva, September 22, 2006—The GAVI Alliance and PATH hail today’s announcement by the Government of Nicaragua and Merck & Co., Inc. on their plans to conduct a demonstration rotavirus vaccine program in Nicaragua. This vaccine’s introduction in a developing country right on the heels of its approval in the developed world is a major milestone for children’s health.

Rotavirus gastroenteritis is one of the leading causes of death among children under age five, causing approximately 600,000 deaths and 2 million hospitalizations from diarrhea and dehydration each year. Greater than 85 percent of those who die from rotavirus are young children in developing countries where access to medical care, including rehydration methods, is limited. 

The project announced today in New York will provide free doses of ROTATEQ®, Merck’s three-dose oral rotavirus vaccine, to all infants in Nicaragua for the next three years. Merck will also provide technical assistance during the duration of the project.

“Rotavirus infects nearly every child in the world before age five, but is particularly devastating in developing countries,” said Dr. Julian Lob-Levyt, executive secretary of the Geneva-based GAVI Alliance. “This demonstration project is a significant step towards global use of rotavirus vaccines, which have the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives, and help the world achieve the Millennium Development Goals. It is also a good illustration of what can be achieved by combining and integrating political will with private resources and partner support to deliver the outcomes needed to reach the health MDGs.”

Rotavirus poses an exception to typical diarrheal disease management rules. While improved access to clean water and better sanitation and hygiene practices are vital to preventing most diarrheal diseases, they have done little to disrupt rotavirus infection, as evidenced by its global incidence. For this reason, the global health community has made the introduction of rotavirus vaccines a priority.

“Nicaragua is a leader in the worldwide effort to accelerate availability of rotavirus vaccines to low-income countries far faster than previous vaccines,” said Dr. John Wecker, director of the PATH Rotavirus Vaccine Program, funded by the GAVI Alliance. “This project will spotlight the value of rotavirus vaccines in developing countries.”

PATH is an international, nonprofit organization that creates sustainable, culturally relevant solutions that enable communities worldwide to break longstanding cycles of poor health. By collaborating with diverse public- and private-sector partners, PATH helps provide appropriate health technologies and vital strategies that change the way people think and act.