News Roundup

Initiative will fast-track vaccine for childhood diarrhoea in developing world

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 15 February 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:354
  1. Debashis Singh
  1. London

    A $30m (£18m; €28m) three year project to accelerate the development of a safe and effective rotavirus vaccine for the developing world was announced this week by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations and the Vaccine Fund.

    The project will be led by the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health, an international organisation that aims to improve the health of women and children. The programme's team will include public health experts from the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Children's Vaccine Program.

    The team's goal is to ensure that the rotavirus vaccine is available to children in developing countries at the same time as is it available to those in the developed world–a process that could save up to 1.5 million lives.

    In the past, vaccine manufacturers would conduct trials and initially introduce new vaccines in countries with the largest profit potential–namely, Europe, North America, and Australia. Then, after 15-20 years, the product would become available in developing countries. The Program for Appropriate Technology in Health hopes that by working with vaccine manufacturers and the governments from developing countries it will accelerate the vaccine's availability to children who need it most. Currently, four rotavirus candidate vaccines are at, or near to, the clinical trial stage.

    Rotavirus is the leading cause of severe diarrhoea and deaths related to diarrhoea. Virtually all children, no matter where they live in the world, will contract rotavirus diarrhoea before the age of 5 years. However, outcomes of an infection differ vastly depending on geography.

    Whereas a child with rotavirus infection in Europe may have diarrhoea and vomiting–and in severe cases would need to be admitted to hospital–a child with rotavirus infection in a developing country will often die.

    Each year rotavirus claims about half a million lives–85% from the poorest developing countries. In the United States about 50 000 children are admitted to hospital each year and about 20 children die from the infection. In countries such as India and Bangladesh, one in every 250 children dies from rotavirus.

    Dr John Wecker, the project leader said, “Until all children worldwide have reliable access to quality health care, the best way to avoid unnecessary deaths from rotavirus is through a vaccine. The rotavirus project will ensure that a safe and effective rotavirus vaccine will be ready for introduction in the developing world within the next five years.”

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