A vaccine for preventing a disease that kills more than half a million children worldwide is safe and works, new studies show.
Trials in Asia and Africa show rotavirus vaccines can save the poorest young children, in countries without clean water or good medical care, where diarrhoea is a major killer of young children.
The vaccines prevented between 39 percent and 48 percent of infections in some of the poorest countries in the world, research out yesterday reveals.
The people who ran the study, published in The Lancet medical journal, are now backing the World Health Organisation and other international experts calling for health programs to be rolled out across both continents to vaccinate as many children as possible.
Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe diarrhoea in babies and young children, and is one of several viruses that cause infections often called stomach flu.
"Rotavirus vaccines have the potential to protect the lives of nearly two million children in the next decade alone," said one of the report’s writers, Dr John Victor of US- based development charity, PATH.
"Our main goal is to prevent the most severe disease that might lead to death in areas where treatment is inaccessible,” said Dr Victor. “Because we saw indications that the vaccine is even more efficacious in preventing the most severe disease children experience, I am very optimistic about the impact that rotavirus vaccines will have on mortality in these settings."
Concluding his report, Dr Victor says: "With a WHO recommendation for rotavirus vaccines now in place, governments of developing countries in Africa and Asia are deciding how to prioritise introduction of rotavirus vaccine in their public health agendas. Our trial shows that a live oral rotavirus vaccine has the potential to halve the incidence of severe rotavirus gastroenteritis in developing populations in Asia. Alongside efficacy results for this vaccine in Africa, our study supports WHO's strong recommendation for expansion of rotavirus vaccine use to the poorest nations in Africa and Asia."
In Africa, some 240 000 people die from rotavirus every year. In a second study, which backs up the first, Dr George Armah of the University of Ghana, along with colleagues at PATH and elsewhere, tested the same vaccine in Ghana, Kenya, and Mali. He found the vaccine was 39 per cent effective in preventing severe disease, and 64 per cent effective in babies a year old or younger."In Africa, where young children are dying from diarrhoeal disease and prompt medical care is often out of reach, the need to prevent rotavirus is especially urgent," the report says.