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Every year, an estimated 3 million people die from vaccine-preventable diseases — many of whom are children under the age of 5. Vaccines are essential in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal on ensuring good health and well-being. You can take action here.

Experts are cheering a major health intervention in southeastern Africa.

A rotavirus vaccine introduced in rural Malawi has reduced infant deaths from diarrhea by more than one-third since it was first administered four years ago, reported the Guardian.

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“These findings are very, very encouraging indeed,” said Malawi’s chief of health services, Dr. Charles Mwansambo, in an interview with the Guardian. “Rotavirus is a major problem in Malawi, but since the introduction of the vaccine we’ve seen remarkable drops in hospital admissions, proving that the vaccine is a worthwhile investment.”

The monovalent rotavirus vaccine (RV1) was introduced in October 2012, according to the report, and in the four years since it has been implemented, infants who received the vaccine had a 34% lower risk of dying from diarrhea.

Scientists from the University of Liverpool, University College London, Johns Hopkins University, and partners in Malawi tracked 48,672 infants born after the introduction of the vaccine in more than 1,800 villages.

“Our findings strongly advocate the incorporation of rotavirus vaccine into the childhood immunization programs of countries with high rates of diarrhea deaths, and support continued use in such countries where a vaccine has been introduced,” said Professor Nigel Cunliffe from the University of Liverpool’s centre for global vaccine research, who led the study.

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Rotavirus is a leading cause of severe diarrhea and death among infants and young children in many countries, claiming the lives of an estimated 1,300 children daily, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the report.

But of the 10 countries with the greatest number of rotavirus-related deaths, only six have introduced national rotavirus vaccines or initiated phased introductions, according to the Rota Council, including Afghanistan, Angola, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, and Pakistan.

Diarrhea can leave children susceptible to other illnesses, such as malaria or pneumonia, and repeated instances can cause infants to become malnourished, according to experts.

As such, scientists are hoping the results in Malawi will spur an international movement.
“If the remaining countries can see the evidence, it would have a significant impact and many children’s lives could be saved,” said Dr. Carina King, a senior research associate at UCL's Institute for Global Health and one of the study’s lead authors, in an interview with the Telegraph. “Vaccines are an easy win. They are cost effective and they work.”

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Successful Vaccine Program Dramatically Reduces Infant Deaths in Malawi

By Joanna Prisco