Reaching Every Child in Africa with Rotavirus Vaccines: A Historic Event at a Historic Time

Jun 08, 2016


Professor Samba Sow
Director General of CVD-Mali and Professor of Medicine at University of Maryland School of Medicine

His Excellency Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, President of the Republic of Mali, at the Opening Ceremony of the 10th African Rotavirus Symposium. Photo credit: Mama Traoré and Kamory Diallo.

Living and working in Mali, I have seen many family members, friends, and patients suffer from severe diarrhea. My brother nearly died from diarrhea as a young child and I will never forget my mother's worry. Far too many Malian children lack easy access to medical care and die needlessly from vaccine-preventable diseases.

Our goal at the Center for Vaccine Development (CVD) - Mali is to prevent, control, and treat endemic and epidemic infectious diseases, particularly those that are vaccine-preventable. We were honored to have hosted the 10th African Rotavirus Symposium in Bamako, Mali on 1 - 2 June 2016. Over 150 people from 33 countries, 29 in Africa, joined forces to address the theme “Reaching Every Child in Africa with Rotavirus Vaccines.”

Dr. Samba Sow, Director General, CVD-Mali and Duncan Steele, Deputy Director and Strategic Lead for Enteric Vaccines, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Photo credit: Mama Traoré and Kamory Diallo.

This year's symposium, the first held in francophone Africa, occurred at an unprecedented time when 30 African countries have introduced rotavirus vaccines into their national immunization programs. The opening ceremony led by His Excellency Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, President of the Republic of Mali, and Dr. Marie Madeleine Togo, Minister of Health, marked this historic event. During the ceremony, attended by more than 400 dignitaries, government officials, and symposium attendees, there was an outflowing of praise for the leadership and dedication of the Malian government in introducing rotavirus and other lifesaving childhood vaccines and catalyzing introductions in other African countries.

Scientists, clinicians, public health officials, policymakers, vaccine manufacturers, and international rotavirus experts discussed diarrheal disease burden, rotavirus vaccine effectiveness and safety, advances in rotavirus science, and sustainability of vaccine programs and diarrhea control efforts in Africa. Rotavirus prevention, through vaccination, is critical to saving children's lives in countries where health care is inaccessible, unavailable, and/or cost prohibitive.   

The symposium organizers issued a Call to Action to: introduce rotavirus vaccines to the 22 African countries that have yet to introduce the vaccine and expand access in the countries that have introduced it to reach all children; continued surveillance and post-impact evaluations; new research in strain diversity, effect of the microbiome, and alternative schedules and doses; and the need to prioritize financial planning.

The popular saying that “it takes a village to raise a child” applies to this event, which would not have been possible without its organizers and sponsors. CVD-Mali will continue to work tirelessly to train and educate health care professionals, and to test the safety, immunogenicity, and efficacy of vaccines. We must not stop until we reach every child in Africa with rotavirus and other lifesaving vaccines.