In the study in Mexico, the effect was no less dramatic. During the 2009 rotavirus season, deaths among infants 11 months old and younger fell 66 percent.
In 2003-2006, about 1,793 children under age 5 died from diarrhea-related diseases each year in Mexico. In 2008, that dropped to 1,118, or nearly a 35 percent reduction. Among children between ages 1 and 2 years, deaths fell by about 29 percent in 2008, even though only 10 percent to 15 percent of the population was eligible for vaccination.
In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Mathuram Santosham, a professor of international health and pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, said the studies provide powerful evidence for instituting rotavirus vaccination programs in developing nations throughout the world.
Malawi, South Africa and Mexico are countries with very different socio-economic patterns, Santosham said, with Malawi among the poorest in the world and South Africa relatively more affluent.
"The data from Mexico is representative of data that one would expect from Latin American countries," he said. "Therefore, I believe that these data can be extrapolated to the majority of developing countries."
Still, there are challenges. To protect children, WHO recommends infants receive the first dose between 6 and 15 weeks. In poorer nations, adherence to those guidelines can be spotty.
"Rotavirus vaccine is a very powerful tool to combat one of the leading causes of childhood deaths -- diarrhea," Santosham said. "The challenge now is to make sure that every poor child in the world has access to this life-saving intervention."
In a related study from the same journal, researchers cautioned that vaccinating immune-compromised children may make them sick. But the illness is likely to be mild even in children who are HIV-positive, Santosham
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