The Burden of Rotavirus Worldwide
Rotavirus is a major cause of diarrheal disease and death worldwide. While almost all unvaccinated children worldwide become infected, children in Africa experience the most severe disease, including death. In sub-Saharan Africa, rotavirus kills around 300,000 children under the age of five every year.
Why does rotavirus cause so much severe disease in this part of the world? Limited access to medical facilities and poor general health status are part of the answer. The other part is limited access to effective vaccines.
The Promise of Rotavirus Vaccines
Two oral, live, attenuated rotavirus vaccines are available internationally: Rotarix® (GlaxoSmithKline) and RotaTeq® (Merck & Co. Inc.). Since 2006, they have been widely used in high-income countries, dramatically reducing death and illness.
In 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended the introduction of the rotavirus vaccine in every country’s national immunization program. However, uptake across sub-Saharan Africa has been slow, with very few countries to date applying for GAVI Alliance vaccine funding. This situation is due in part to a lack of scientific data and economic evidence to enable decision makers to determine if this is a priority health intervention.
Supporting the DRC to Make Decisions Regarding Rotavirus Vaccine Introduction
In this context, AMP has developed the Rotavirus Vaccine Project in the Democratic Republic of Congo (RVP-DRC), which will compile data that will allow the Ministry of Health to decide whether or not to introduce rotavirus vaccine in the near future. Conducted over a 1.5-year period, the project involves the following:
• Evaluation of the rotavirus disease burden and viral strain circulation in DRC
• Situation analysis of issues related to rotavirus vaccine implementation including barriers to use
• Evaluation of decision-making process for the introduction of new vaccines
• Technical support in the development of applications for GAVI Alliance funding (if the Ministry of Health decides to implement routine rotavirus vaccination)
Home to more than 70 million inhabitants, DRC has a high infant and child mortality rate. Only about 40% of children under the age of five with acute diarrhea have access to oral rehydration therapy. Immunization could thus prevent early death in thousands of children every year.