A remarkable benchmark was achieved in the past few weeks, as Rwanda became one of the first African countries to administer the rotavirus vaccine as part of their routine immunization program. Rwanda has shown remarkable success in scaling up immunizations in the past years, having just introduced the Hepatitis B, Haemophilus influenzae type B, and 7 valent-pneumococcal conjugate vaccines in 2008 and 2009.
Rotavirus gastroenteritis is a mild to severe disease characterized by vomiting, watery diarrhea, and low grade fever, and is responsible for 25-50% of severe diarrhea cases worldwide. Due to the lack of access to prevention and treatment measures for diarrhea—such as access to clean water and sanitation and the use of oral rehydration solutions—rotavirus infection can lead to death due to dehydration. According to findings from the Rwanda health information and monitoring system in 2008, diarrhea is the third leading cause of death in the country and continues to cause a substantial number of child deaths today.
[Above: MCHIP's Dr. Augustin Gatera demonstrates how to open rotavirus vaccine vial during training of district and health facility staff.]
In order to fight diarrheal deaths and other causes of infant and child mortality, USAID and MCHIP have been working tirelessly alongside the Rwandan government to scale-up evidence-based, high impact maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH) interventions. MCHIP provided a remarkable contribution to the pre-induction activities surrounding the rotavirus vaccine administration in Rwanda, and the Program continues to help facilitate a smooth introduction of the rotavirus vaccine across Rwanda with provision of technical support to the national Expanded Programme on Immunization and its partners.
It is in this regard that, through technical support, the Government of Rwanda sent a new vaccine introduction application to GAVI, which was successfully approved. In the first shipment, the country received 428,500 doses of rotavirus vaccine, which are targeted to serve 399,274 infants between the ages of 6 to 32 weeks.
The vaccine arrived at Kigali Airport on May 5, 2012, where it was met by a delegation from the Rwandan Ministry of Health, USAID and MCHIP, as well as representatives of UNICEF and WHO. Upon the vaccine’s arrival, the Honorable Minister of Health Dr. Agnes Binagwaho spoke with excitement about integrating the rotavirus vaccine into the country's current immunization regimens in the hopes of decreasing infant mortality in the country. She also gave thanks to USAID and MCHIP for their continued support in implementing the vaccine.
[Above: Delegates listening to the Minister of Health after her arrival to Kigali airport.]
The related launch event occurred three weeks later in a small village in Musanze District in the Northern Province. This event was particularly significant in its integration of administration of the new rotavirus vaccine, the human papilloma virus vaccine to prevent cervical cancer, and mebendazole tablets to prevent parasitic infections. Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Health Dr. Uzziel Ndagijimana, who was the guest of honor at the event, applauded Rwanda’s success in being the one of the first countries to use the rotavirus vaccine in their immunization program.
The rotavirus vaccine launch in Rwanda demonstrates the strong partnership between the Rwandan Ministry of Health, USAID, MCHIP, UNICEF and WHO in the fight against infant and child mortality. In the months ahead, the Rwandan government will roll out the rotavirus vaccine to all infants in the country; hopefully, other countries will follow their example.
[Above: Mothers with eligible infants waiting for the rotavirus vaccine at the launch. Below: First Rwandan child receiving the rotavirus vaccine.]