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Experts convene to address major cause of childhood illness and death

BANGKOK, Thailand September 21, 2012 This week, more than 350 leading scientific, public and private sector experts convened to discuss progress and next steps in reducing the global incidence of rotavirus, the most common cause of diarrheal hospitalizations and deaths among children worldwide. Rotavirus takes the lives of approximately 188,000 Asian children under five each year.

Vaccines are the best way to prevent rotavirus because interventions that prevent other forms of diarrhea including improved hygiene, sanitation and safe drinking water do not adequately prevent the spread of rotavirus. Combining rotavirus vaccines with other diarrhea protection and treatment methods such as oral rehydration therapy, zinc supplementation, breastfeeding and improved hygiene, sanitation and nutrition can significantly reduce child illnesses and deaths.

The introduction of a rotavirus vaccine into childhood immunization schedules has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives every year. In Thailand, where the symposium was hosted, there is commitment to controlling rotavirus and the country recently introduced the vaccine in the Sukhothai Province.

"Rotavirus continues to pose a serious and unnecessary threat to children all over the world because there is insufficient access to existing vaccines," said Dr. Ciro de Quadros, executive vice president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and co-chair of the Rotavirus Organization of Technical Allies (ROTA Council). "That is why we continue to press for expanded access to safe and effective rotavirus vaccines in order to achieve our ultimate objective of saving lives and reducing illness and needless suffering."

More than 450,000 children die from rotavirus each year, and millions more are severely sickened or hospitalized. Nearly half of global rotavirus deaths occur in Asia, where more than 500 people die of the preventable disease each day. Rotavirus is the cause of approximately 42 percent of all hospital admissions for diarrhea in Asia.

"For many years, the top priority has been to develop a vaccine to address the burden caused by rotavirus," noted Roger Glass, Director, Fogarty International Center of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). "Now there is a vaccine, so we must turn our attention to implementation, monitoring and evaluation."

While the World Health Organization recommends that rotavirus vaccines be included in every country's national immunization program, only 38 countries have taken this step, including just two in Asia. The Philippines began vaccinating children for rotavirus in July 2012, and Thailand recently introduced rotavirus vaccination in the Sukhothai Province.

The 10th International Rotavirus Symposium, led by the Sabin Vaccine Institute, PATH, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is being held from September 19-21, 2012 in order to review the latest data on rotavirus vaccine impact, efficacy and safety, as well as rotavirus vaccine policy and introduction issues.

"The evidence being shared at this year's symposium is essential to informing and influencing policy related to rotavirus vaccine introduction and use," said Kathleen Neuzil, Director, Vaccine Access and Delivery at PATH. "Every child is vulnerable to the rotavirus threat, regardless of where they live. We can change this."


Contact: Caitlin Garlow
Sabin Vaccine Institute

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