Rotavirus vaccine - how icddr,b contributed in finding a simple solution to save children's lives

Recently, the GAVI Alliance,  an international organisation that supports vaccination in low-income countries, announced that a significant price reduction for  Rotavirus vaccines had been offered from a pharmaceutical company that will lower the cost to US$2.50 a dose, a third of the previous low price. icddr,b played a lead role in evaluating rotavirus vaccine efficacy in high-mortality, low-income settings in Asia. The study findings made a significant contribution to the growing body of evidence that demonstrated the safety, efficacy and potential lifesaving impact of rotavirus vaccines and led to the World Health Organization’s recommendation for  global introduction of rotavirus vaccines because of its potential life-saving impact.  Children in developing countries will now finally get access to the same life-saving rotavirus vaccines.

Clinical studies support lifesaving impact of vaccines

As recommended by the World Health Organization between 2007 and 2009 clinical studies were conducted in Africa and Asia where eighty-five percent of rotavirus related deaths occur. The icddr,b led Asian clinical study, the first of its kind in the region, took place in rural Matlab, Bangladesh and urban and periruban Nha Trang, Vietnam.  The African study took place in Kenya, Ghana and Mali.

More than 2,000 infants were enrolled in the study in Bangladesh and Vietnam. The findings of the rotavirus vaccine study in Asia published in the Lancet showed a fifty  percent reduction in severe rotavirus related hospitalisations  – equivalent to thousands of children’s lives being saved each year.

Rotavirus – a deadly but preventable disease

Each year, rotavirus kills half a million children under five around the world and 16,000 children in Bangladesh alone. Rotavirus is the lead cause of severe diarrhoea and death amongst children, however, it is one of the most easily preventable public health challenges faced today. Many of the deaths can be prevented if children had access to life-saving vaccines. Rotavirus vaccination can help  child survival in the developing world, where urgent care for severe rotavirus is often limited or even inaccessible. 

According to Dr K. Zaman, senior scientist and epidemiologist at icddr,b, and the lead author of the Asian study, the real tragedy is that — much of the deaths and sufferings could be prevented if children had access to life-saving vaccines. In the United States, Rotavirus vaccines have been widely available for five years, even though the disease only killed a handful of children a year when they were introduced. However, in developing countries like Bangladesh, where the need is much greater, there is hardly any opportunity  for the vast majority of children.

The major challenge so far has been in the price of the life-saving vaccines, which are highly expensive for a poor country like Bangladesh, where health resources are scarce and donors have been hesitant to support the vaccine until the cost came down. The availability of an affordable rotavirus vaccine is welcoming news for South Asian countries like Bangladesh where Rotavirus is an all-too-commonly accepted part of life.

For details please contact Dr. K. Zaman