Sudan vaccinates its first child for rotavirus

August 15th, 2011 by admin Leave a reply

By: Alanna Shaikh

Between Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and London, I think we could use some good news right now. Luckily, I have some. Sudan has just vaccinated its first child for diarrhea.

Diarrhea kills children in the developing world, in huge numbers. It’s not much more than an inconvenience in New York or Oslo, but in places where infrastructure is weak and clean water is hard to get, diarrhea is routinely deadly to kids, especially children under five. In fact, it’s the second leading cause of death globally for under fives (this WHO publication can tell you a whole lot more about it if you’re interested.)

The most common cause of diarrhea is rotavirus. Rotaviruses cause 527,000 deaths every year, most of them in children. They’re difficult to prevent without vaccinating, because they are highly contagious. They spread easily through fecal contamination of food or water. In environments where it is difficult to have good hygiene, rotavirus is almost guaranteed.

But we do have a vaccine, and it’s finally being introduced in the developing world where it is needed the most. Last week, it was introduced in Sudan.

The first child to be vaccinated was Jasir Tarig. He was 43 days old. I found the description of his vaccination, from the manager of the expanded immunization programme for Sudan, really moving:

“Without anybody noticing, I put my hand over Jasir’s head and recited some Quran statements that we Muslims say when we want to protect our children from harm. I prayed to God in my heart that the vaccine would keep him well. I prayed that the vaccine would give health and protection to all our children.

The baby was so calm and beautiful as the President’s Advisor gave him his rotavirus vaccination. We congratulated his mother and wished that the boy would be the first in his school, too.”

The funding for the rotavirus vaccine in Sudan comes from the Global Access to Vaccines Initiative, aka GAVI. It’s been a long road. After doing epidemiological surveillance to confirm that rotaviruses were a health problem in Sudan, the Ministry of Health developed a proposal. The proposal was submitted to GAVI in September 2009, and the vaccine arrived in Sudan at the end of June this year. Finally at the end of July, the first vaccine was given. Sudan is the first African country to start vaccinating for rotaviruses with GAVI support. It was a long, bureaucratic process, but a process that, when you consider it, was based on love for children.

And it means this: right now, there are young people burning cities in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, for no apparent reason. There are dictators destroying nations out of lust for power and money. And there are little children being vaccinated in Sudan.

It’s been a bad month for the planet. For that matter, it hasn’t been a great year. But we’re still trying. We’re still loving our children and doing our best to protect them. We’re vaccinating.

Alanna Shaikh is an expert in health consulting, writing about global health for UN Dispatch and about international relief and development at Blood & Milk. She also serves as a frequently contributing blogger to ‘End the Neglect.’ The views and opinions expressed by guest bloggers are not necessarily the views and opinions of the Global Network. All opinions expressed here are Alanna’s own and not those of any employer or the US government.

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    • The Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases is a major advocacy and resource mobilization initiative of the Sabin Vaccine Institute dedicated to raising the awareness, political will, and funding necessary to control and eliminate the most common neglected tropical diseases (NTDs)--a group of disabling, disfiguring, and deadly diseases affecting more than 1.4 billion people worldwide living on less than $1.25 a day.
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