It kills anywhere from a quarter-million to half-a-million kids every year and is one of the world’s leading causes of child mortality.
But it wasn’t too long ago hardly anybody had even heard of it.
Rotavirus — the killer bug that set off Bill Gates and gave direction to his philanthropy.
“No matter where we looked in the world, about 40 percent of all kids under 5 years old in hospitals for severe and life-threatening diarrhea had rotavirus,” said John Wecker, head of Seattle-based PATH’s vaccine access and delivery program. PATH has a long history advocating for a rotavirus vaccine.
“We’d go into these countries where huge numbers of kids were dying from diarrhea and they’d say ‘Rota what?” Wecker said. “We don’t have that here. Nobody had ever heard of it.”
Today, an international group that represents the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation‘s single largest philanthropic project aimed at expanding children’s vaccinations announced it was launching a major new global jab against rotavirus and another big killer of young children, pneumococcal disease. The campaign focuses on Africa, where these two infectious diseases are rampant.
“The death toll of rotavirus and pneumococcal infections in Africa is particularly devastating, and this is where these vaccines will make the most significant impact, not only in lives saved, but also in terms of healthy lives lived,” said Seth Berkley, CEO of this group known as GAVI, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization.
It’s a major milestone for GAVI, for a number of reasons, but in a way just another big step forward in a decade of significant progress for this alliance created to expand access to childhood immunizations in poor countries.
Since it was launched, hundreds of millions of children have been vaccinated and an estimated 5 million deaths prevented.
That’s more deaths averted than has so far been credited to the much-larger Global Fund for Fighting AIDS, TB and Malaria — or any other single project in the global health arena, for that matter. Continue reading