According to GAVI, a public-private alliance to boost immunisation, rotavirus kills more than 600 children every day in Africa, and thousands more are hospitalised or require clinic visits.
“Diarrhoea is one of the top killers of children under five in Cameroon, responsible for more than 5,800 deaths in children under five yearly,” Desire Noulna of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) told IPS.
There is suspicion and mistrust of vaccines among different communities in Cameroon. A study by the EPI found that 33 percent of families are opposed to vaccination of children and pregnant women due to religious and traditional beliefs. Rumours have been circulated that public health officials were administering vaccines to sterilise women.
In June 2009, based in large part on clinical trials in Africa that demonstrated vaccine efficacy in impoverished, high-mortality settings, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended that rotavirus vaccines be included in all countries’ national immunisation programmes. Cameroon introduced the rotavirus vaccine last month after ten other countries in Africa: Botswana, The Gambia, Ghana, Malawi, Morocco, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, South Africa, and Sudan.
According to WHO, South Africa, the first African country to introduce rotavirus vaccines into its national immunisation programme in 2009, experienced dramatic decreases of 54 to 69 percent in rotavirus hospitalisations in both rural and urban settings within two years.
In Ethiopia, the introduction of rotavirus vaccines is estimated to save 3,700 lives. In Ghana, rotavirus vaccines are predicted to save 1,554 lives annually.
Cameroon will hold a national immunisation campaign in the coming months. But some experts argue that the sanitation problem in Cameroon presents a major challenge to the effectiveness of this vaccine. Only about 45 percent of the rural population has access to drinking water against 77 percent in urban areas. An estimated 13.5 percent of rural people have access to proper hygiene and sanitation compared to 17 percent in urban areas.
“There are some neighbourhoods in our major cities that for months go without potable water. Even when supplied, the quality is very doubtful,” says Obed Fung, health expert at the Foretia Foundation that supports development in Cameroon.