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Experts Gather to Honor a Decade of Progress to End Child Deaths from Rotavirus

Research News
Monday, September 5, 2016 - 1:30pm

Global Health Leaders Gather Where It All Began: Australian Discovery in 1974 Launched Offensive Against Leading Killer of Children

Beginning on September 7, 2016 in Melbourne the 12th International Rotavirus Symposium will bring together hundreds of stakeholders from over 50 countries to provide an update on new data and research that will inform public health agendas related to prevention of rotavirus gastroenteritis, the leading cause of severe diarrhea in children worldwide.

Diarrheal diseases remain the second-leading cause of death from infections among children, despite the fact that proven, lifesaving interventions exist. The symposium will shed light on results of trials of new rotavirus vaccines being studied in developing countries, issues in vaccine policy and introduction, and early data on new and existing vaccine impact and safety from the perspective of more than 350 experts from over 57 countries.

It has been a decade since the first vaccine was introduced against rotavirus. While 81 countries have introduced rotavirus vaccines, the most recent data shows rotavirus killed an estimated 215,000 children in 2013 and hospitalizes millions more each year. To further reduce these preventable deaths, the biennial International Rotavirus Symposium provides a crucial opportunity for scientists, policymakers and public health officers to share the latest developments in the fast-moving rotavirus field. The Sabin Vaccine Institute convened the Symposium in collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health, the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, the University of Melbourne, PATH and the ROTA Council.

This year’s event includes a special session honoring Australian virologist Professor Ruth Bishop, who discovered rotavirus in 1973. Professor Bishop’s achievements in medical research and impact in the global health field will be honored during the final session on the first day, when experts will participate in a roundtable to discuss the role of women in the scientific advancement of rotavirus research.

 “The 12th International Rotavirus Symposium provides a special opportunity to review and reflect on ten years of experiences in rotavirus vaccine introduction. Additionally, this year’s event is being held in Australia, where rotavirus was discovered by Professor Ruth Bishop – an inspiration to many of us working in epidemiology and global health,” said Professor Julie Bines, the Victor and Loti Smorgon Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Melbourne and Head of the Rotavirus Vaccine Program at Murdoch Children's Research Institute.

“Sabin is honored to convene leaders to continue the collaboration that over the last decade has seen accelerating introduction of rotavirus vaccines and a dramatic decline in child mortality due to diarrhea,” said Jon Andrus, Executive Vice President and Director of Vaccine Advocacy and Education at the Sabin Vaccine Institute in Washington, DC, United States. “We look forward to hearing countries’ perspectives on how to meet the challenges for a second decade of vaccine introductions to end the unnecessary suffering caused by this disease.” 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than one-third of all hospitalizations for severe diarrhea are caused by rotavirus. Virtually all rotavirus deaths occur in developing countries. In Asia, rotavirus kills approximately 89,000 children under five each year and in Africa, rotavirus kills approximately 123,000 children under five each year. Whereas 29 countries in Africa have introduced rotavirus vaccines, just two countries in South-East Asia have introduced rotavirus vaccines. Hospitalizations are a tremendous financial burden to already impoverished families and strain health systems.

Despite the WHO recommendation that rotavirus vaccines be introduced into every country’s national immunization program, 94 million infants still do not have access to this critical intervention. These countries should prioritize the vaccines now.

“It is unconscionable that children are still dying by the hundreds of thousands every year from diarrheal diseases, which are so common in developing countries. We have vaccines - such as rotavirus vaccine - interventions such as oral rehydration therapy, and exclusive breastfeeding, that should make diarrheal deaths in young children a thing of the past,” said Duncan Steele, deputy director of the enteric and diarrheal diseases team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “The rotavirus vaccine has already had an immense impact, both in reducing diarrheal -associated deaths in Bolivia, Botswana, El Salvador, Mexico, and Zambia, and in reducing the numbers of young children hospitalized with diarrheal diseases in all countries where the vaccines have been introduced. We hope more countries in Asia and around the world will help make sure all children can benefit from its protection.”

“Without access to treatment for the severe dehydration it can cause, rotavirus can be a death sentence. Prevention can mean the difference between life and death. Vaccines are the most powerful tool to protect children from rotavirus, but a lot more work needs to be done to ensure children worldwide can access them. This event is an opportunity to fill in the gaps in rotavirus prevention and control. Let’s seize it now. ” said Mathuram Santosham, chair of ROTA Council and professor of International Health and Pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, United States.

The full agenda for the event can be found here.