Sierra Leone has the highest child mortality rate in the world and the majority of children in the country die from preventable and easily treatable diseases. Diarrhea belongs to the primary causes for illness and death of children under the age of five and the rota virus is one of its leading causes.
Good news is that the rotavirus vaccine will now be made accessible free of charge for children in Sierra Leone. On 28 March 2014, the vaccine will be integrated into the routine immunization schedule. The launch will take place at the national, district and facility level; it will be crucial to ensure that the vaccine reaches all eligible children. UNICEF, WHO, and the GAVI Alliance fully support the Government of Sierra Leone in its decision to introduce the vaccine. UNICEF Country Representative Roeland Monasch explains that “the rotavirus vaccine is a low-cost, high-impact solution that will contribute to the reduction of death among children and realizing the MDG 4”.
There is excitement about the nationwide introduction of the rotavirus vaccine because it promises to significantly reduce cases of severe diarrhea caused by the rotavirus. However, hygiene practices in the handling of food, hand-washing with soap, access to potable water and environmental sanitation remain core elements in the prevention of diarrhea.
“Whilst the rota virus is one of the major causes for diarrhea, it does not account for all types of diarrhea”, cautions Dr. Nuhu, Immunization Specialist at UNICEF Sierra Leone. Therefore, the launch of the rota virus vaccine is accompanied by a major communication campaign. The aim is to raise people’s awareness and knowledge that the vaccine is important but not a panacea for all causes of diarrhea. As much as caregivers are encouraged to take their children five times to health clinics for the vaccination, they are called upon to improve their own hygiene behaviors which remain essential in protecting their children from all forms of diarrhea.
*** By Rosmarie E. K. Jah, Donor Reports Officer, External Relations and Advocacy, UNICEF Sierra Leone ***