It is a stunning fact that bears repeating:
Diarrhea is one the world’s big killers. Every year, diarrhea is estimated to kill anywhere from one to 2 million people, children mostly — about as many die annually from malaria.
Much of this is due to dirty, contaminated water.
But a major cause of the most severe and deadly form of diarrhea is a bug called rotavirus. Bill Gates has said it was when he read about this virus, or more accurately the stunning number of deaths it causes in poor countries (about 500,000, a half to a third of the global diarrhea death toll), that initially set him on his global health mission as a philanthropist.
Today, a global immunization project (which, not incidentally, was launched by the Gates Foundation and Seattle-based PATH a decade ago) has started expanding access in Africa to vaccines that prevent rotavirus infection.
The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, GAVI, today announced the first child — in Khartoum, Sudan — to be vaccinated in a new rotavirus immunization campaign that aims to reach millions of vulnerable children in 40 low- or middle-income countries.
“Rotavirus vaccines save children’s lives and our mission is to ensure we get these vaccines to children in Africa and throughout the developing world as quickly as possible. These are the places where rotavirus has the most devastating impact”, said Helen Evans, GAVI interim CEO.
GAVI, as you may recall, recently completed a highly successful fund-raising campaign that has allowed it to expand its portfolio of vaccines to include new vaccines against pneumonia and rotavirus.
Here’s a nice perspective on the rotavirus vaccine roll-out by John Wecker of PATH, one of those who have worked for years to expand access to the vaccine worldwide.