Rota vaccines move from research to reality in Malawi

Oct 29, 2012


Deborah Phillips
Communications Officer


Malawi was a groundbreaker: The first developing country where research definitively proved that rotavirus vaccines will save lives in the world's most challenging settings. A study in Malawi and South Africa garnered the first figures on rotavirus vaccine efficacy in high-burden, low-income settings and set the stage for a World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation that all countries introduce rotavirus vaccines.


PATH was a primary partner in that pivotal study, and I remember just two years ago when the data were ready for prime-time, when we worked on press releases and prepped spokespeople to spread the word: “Rotavirus vaccines work in the communities where they are needed most!” So many needed to know the good news: the WHO, considering a recommendation on worldwide use; politicians and health ministers, wrestling decisions on precious healthcare dollars; the GAVI Alliance, preparing to offer co-financing to countries that desperately needed rotavirus vaccines but could not afford them.

Today, mothers and fathers are the ones who most need to know. Today, rotavirus vaccination comes to all of Malawi. Data-points transition to lives saved as Malawi's families face down the threat of rotavirus, armed with a few simple, lifesaving drops of vaccine. What began with 1,700 generous study participants now extends to each of the 1,800 Malawian infants born every day.

Malawi's children now have a better chance at a healthy start, with fewer severe diarrhea episodes threatening their mental and physical development. Their mothers and fathers will miss fewer work days lost to caring for sick babies, their communities will carry less health care cost burden, and their country's economy will grow.

Challenges to ultimately defeat diarrhea in Malawi persist, to be sure, with responsibilities for safe water, clinical interventions, and nutrition spread across varied government sectors. But tackling the leading cause of fatal childhood diarrhea in rotavirus could be a fortuitous start in establishing a cross-sector, comprehensive diarrhea control framework. PATH worked with a local steering committee to get these conversations off the ground. Enthusiasm was evident, and will be a strong force in guiding policy evolution through the coming years.

But let's not overlook this very day. Today Malawi joins Sudan, Ghana, and Rwanda as the fourth low-income African nation to bring rotavirus vaccines to all of its children, with support from GAVI. I can't wait to hear who's next… and to spread that good news too.

Photo: PATH/John Victor

For more information:

-- PATH's rotavirus vaccine access and delivery website

-- Fact sheet: Rotavirus disease and vaccines in Malawi