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Dr. Clarisse Loe Loumou, paediatrician and member of the Steering Committee of the GAVI Civil Society Organisation (CSO) Constituency
During my years of practice in the largest paediatric hospital of Cameroon in Yaoundé, I remember that the 300 beds were rarely empty. I was in charge of the
gastroenterology and paediatric nutrition ward, where 28 beds were occupied
more than 90% of the time by infants who were dehydrated and suffering from severe diarrhoea.
Our problem was not the diarrhoea itself - its treatment protocols are well known; oral re-hydration salts, adequate re-nutrition, zinc supplementation, intravenous (IV) fluids for the most severe cases - but in making real the possibility of preventing severe diarrhoea.
The roll out of rotavirus vaccines in Africa has begun. In this five-minute film, immunisation experts, health workers and mothers from Sudan and Tanzania talk about the need for the vaccines and their hope for the future. Source: Ryan Youngblood, Doune Porter/GAVI/2011.
It was and still is common for children in Cameroon and other parts of Africa who are suffering from severe diarrhoea to die due to limited access to oral re-hydration salts, IVs, clean drinking water, or even the inability to reach a hospital in time.
Rotavirus is the leading cause of severe diarrhoea in children under five years of age worldwide, killing more than half a million children each year and
hospitalising millions more. Nearly 50%, or 230,000 of thoserotavirus deaths, happen in Africa. Worldwide, more than one third of the 1.34 million diarrhoea deaths in children under five years of age, and 40% of the 9 million diarrhoea-related hospitalisations are due to rotavirus disease. In Africa, the percentage of rotavirus-related hospitalisations is even a bit higher at 41%. These facts may be
little-known, yet diarrhoea remains the primary cause of child mortality in Africa.
In Cameroon, diarrhoea is the third highest cause of death in children under
five years old. 30% of those diarrhoeal deaths are due to rotavirus.
We need to draw attention to the devastating role of rotavirus in causing death to millions of young children. My hopes of delivering a rotavirus vaccine across all of Africa must one day become a reality, not only to prevent hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths, but to boost our fight against poverty.
And let’s not forget the economic costs of diarrhoea; of hospitalisation, of medications, of parents or caregivers who must stop work, and of young lives lost. This leads to a vicious circle, where diarrhoea that is inadequately treated can cause malnutrition, which can decrease immunity and lead to further re-infection with diarrhoea or other diseases. Vaccination offers the best hope for preventing severe rotavirus disease and the deadly dehydrating diarrhoea that it causes.
I am proud that in July 2011, with the support of the GAVI Alliance, Cameroon introduced a vaccine against pneumococcal disease, the leading cause of pneumonia, and aims to introduce the rotavirus vaccine in 2013. None of this would be
possible without political will, the active contribution of donors, and the efforts of the Government of Cameroon and its Immunisation Programme, which have made the environment conducive to helping these life-saving vaccines reach the
children who need them most.
I am delighted that our children are finally going to be protected against the main causes of diarrhoea and pneumonia, the world’s two biggest killers of children under five and the leading killers here in Cameroon. There is no reason for such unjust deaths, and we now eagerly await the rotavirus vaccine to reach us in 2013.
This post also appears on the ONE International site.
© GAVI Alliance 2014
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