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RotaFlash: Rotavirus vaccine update

April 27, 2012

Ghana takes on top two child killers simultaneously

Historic dual rollout of rotavirus and pneumococcal vaccines—a first for Africa

Yesterday, Ghana made history. It became the first African country to simultaneously introduce vaccines against the primary causes of the two leading childhood killers worldwide—diarrhea and pneumonia. In Ghana, these killer diseases together account for approximately 20 percent of the country’s mortality in children under five years of age. The Expanded Program on Immunization Manager, Dr. K.O. Antwi-Agyei, decided that Ghana’s children could wait no longer for lifesaving vaccines and made the unprecedented decision to introduce both vaccines at once. "We could not introduce one vaccine and then wait—while our children were dying—to introduce the other. We have the systems and we have carefully planned the introduction process," said Dr. Anti-Agyei.

Preparations for the dual introduction were heroic and successful:

  • Expansion of the cold chain to keep the vaccines cool in a tropic nation where electricity in rural areas is unreliable.
  • Completion of training programs for tens of thousands of healthcare workers.
  • Far-reaching public awareness campaigns taken to outreach centers in rural villages.
  • Reissuance of millions of upgraded child health immunization cards.

Ghana has identified rotavirus vaccines as an essential and lifesaving intervention in its comprehensive diarrhea control strategy, thereby facilitating achievement of Millennium Development Goal 4—reduction of child mortality.


Ghana's First Lady H.E. Dr. Ernestina Naadu Mills vaccinates six-week-old Queenstonia Nyamekye against rotavirus during the first-vaccination ceremony.


Burden of rotavirus in Ghana


Diarrhea is one of the leading killers of children in Ghana—causing approximately 10 percent of deaths in children under five years of age. Rotavirus, the most common cause of severe and fatal diarrhea in young children worldwide, takes the lives of 2,090 Ghanaian children under five each year. This accounts for 3.6 percent of the total under-five deaths in Ghana (57,000 annually). Nearly half the diarrheal disease hospitalizations of Ghanaian children under five are caused by rotavirus.


Rotavirus vaccines are cost-effective for Ghana

Recent studies in Ghana have shown that rotavirus vaccines are safe and effective against severe rotavirus disease and are a highly cost-effective intervention. Treating rotavirus diarrhea among children in Ghana costs an estimated US$3.2 million per year.  It is predicted that with the introduction of rotavirus vaccines, Ghana would save US$1.7 million (53.3 percent) in treatment costs and save 1,554 children’s lives per year.

Lifesaving impact for Ghanaian children

The high burden of rotavirus disease in Ghanaian children, coupled with the power of rotavirus vaccines to prevent childhood deaths and hospitalizations, underscores the incredible potential for Ghana’s introduction of rotavirus vaccines to save children’s lives.  Accelerating access to rotavirus vaccines by GAVI and its partners will not only save the lives of Ghanaians but also lessen the tremendous economic and health burden of rotavirus disease, thereby contributing to poverty reduction and a growing economy.


PATH collaborates on rotavirus vaccine activities with the CDC, WHO, UNICEF, vaccine manufacturers, and countries around the world. RotaFlash is funded by the GAVI Alliance.

For information on rotavirus disease and RotaFlash, please email us. For information on diarrheal disease, please visit DefeatDD’s website. For information on the GAVI Alliance’s support for rotavirus vaccine introduction, please click here.

Banner photo courtesy of One: Living Proof.

Other photo: GAVI/Olivier Asselin/2012

Figure 1 extrapolated from: (1) Black RE, Cousens S, Johnson HL, et al. Global, regional, and national causes of child mortality in 2008: a systematic analysis. The Lancet. 2010;375(9730):1969–1987; (2) WHO. 2008 rotavirus deaths, under 5 years of age, as of 31 January 2012. Accessed April 27, 2012.


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