Rotavirus – the top cause of severe and often fatal diarrhoea and dehydration in children – kills some 527,000 children a year globally, nearly half of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
“It is our hope that these data will catalyze action so that one day we can live in a world where no child dies from diarrhoea,” Kathy Neuzil, senior clinical advisor for vaccines at the international health non-profit PATH, said in a 27 January statement.
Published on 27 January in the New England Journal of Medicine, results from first-ever clinical trials in South Africa and Malawi show that a live, oral rotavirus vaccine significantly reduces the episodes of severe rotavirus gastroenteritis in African children during the first year of life.
The data “provide policymakers with the critical information they need to make decisions about rotavirus vaccine introduction,” George Armah, professor and rotavirus expert at Ghana’s Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research, said.
The trial results led the World Health Organization in June 2009 to recommend global use of the vaccine.
The Africa trials focused on the vaccine’s performance in high mortality, low-income settings, according to a 27 January communiqué by PATH and GAVI Alliance.
Health experts point out that while rotavirus infection in treatable, it has devastating and deadly impact in rural and poor areas where people cannot access medical care. “Vaccines represent the best hope for preventing the severe consequences of rotavirus infection,” Nigel Culiffe of University of Liverpool said in statement.
The trials were coordinated and co-funded through a partnership between GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals and the GAVI Alliance-funded Rotavirus Vaccine Trials Partnership – PATH, WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.