The Government of Uganda has rolled out Rotavirus vaccine into the Routine Immunization Schedule to protect children under five years of age from diarrhea. This is the 11th vaccine that is provided free to infants and children at all health facilities and selected community outreaches within the country.
The organism’s characteristic wheel-like appearance under the electron microscope gives the rotavirus its name from the Latin word ‘rota,’ meaning ‘wheel.’
Rotavirus infection is the leading cause of diarrhea in children under five and it is highly contagious. The virus may cause severe, dehydrating diarrhoea in young children and can sometimes lead to death in untreated cases.
Buikwe District was selected as the host for the national launch of Rotavirus vaccine because analysis of data showed that Buikwe ranks high in reporting diarrheal diseases in outpatient attendance. Over the last three years, it was among the top five districts having the highest prevalence of diarrheal diseases.
During the launch of the vaccine, the Guest of Honor, the Prime Minister of Uganda, Rt. Hon. Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, emphasized the need for communities to embrace proper sanitation and hygiene practices in order to prevent children from suffering from diarrhea. “While your child gets vaccinated against Rotavirus, always wash your hands with clean water and soap before you handle your baby and safely dispose the baby’s feaces so that both yours and other children in the community are protected from diarrhea” he urged.
“The Rotavirus vaccine is an additional way to ensure that our children are free from infection. It is, therefore, a welcome vaccine to our health system” Rugunda said amidst cheers from the mothers of Buikwe District.
Rugunda, however, warned parents and guardians who refrain from taking their children for immunization. “It has been brought to my attention that a number of children start immunization but do not complete the immunization schedule and, therefore, do not get the full benefits of immunization. This is unacceptable and it must stop” he said.
Rotavirus ranks highest among the top 5 causes, accounting for 40% of diarrhea cases among children in Uganda. Every year, an estimated 10,637 children under 5 years of age die due to Rotavirus diarrhea.
Minister of Health, Hon. Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng noted that the introduction of the vaccine is timely as it is an additional protection to the children of Uganda. “This vaccine is expected to go a long way in reducing healthcare costs of treatment and ensuring a healthy and productive population” she said.
Aceng took the opportunity to urge the parents and guardians to ensure that their children are fully immunized. “All children in Uganda MUST and I repeat MUST be immunized at least 5 times before their first birthday” she emphasized.
On behalf of the UN Family, Dr. Bayo Segun Fatunmbi commended the leadership of Ministry of Health for spearheading the roll out of the Rotavirus vaccine into the Routine Immunization Schedule. “Uganda has already demonstrated good progress in reducing its under-five mortality from 152 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2000 to 64 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2016 and the introduction of this critical vaccine is expected to further curb mortality rates” he mentioned.
Dr. Bayo emphasized that the use of rotavirus vaccine should be part of a comprehensive strategy to control diarrhoeal diseases by scaling up on both prevention and treatment packages which include:
- Promotion of early and exclusive breastfeeding, hand-washing, supply of clean and safe water and sanitation
- Giving all children solutions of low-osmolarity Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS) to prevent and treat dehydration due to diarrhoea
- Continuous breast feeding of a child because breast milk is an excellent rehydration fluid
- Providing zinc treatment to children which reduces the duration and severity of diarrhoea episodes, stool volume and the need for advanced medical care.
With support from GAVI, WHO, UNICEF and Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), Rotavirus vaccine was introduced at a cost of USD 9,234,500. Of this, the vaccines cost was USD 7,728,000 and USD1,506,500 was used to finance the process of introduction. As part of the co-financing agreement, Government of Uganda contributed to the tune of USD 823,500.
Rotavirus vaccine is safe and can be administered simultaneously with other routine infant vaccines. It is administered orally and requires two doses at 6 and 10 weeks of age.