Rotavirus—the most common and lethal form of diarrhea—deadly for children

Rotavirus—the most common and lethal form of diarrhea—is one of the most deadly diseases facing children

By Dr. John Wecker, director of the Vaccine Access and Delivery Global Program at PATH

Whether you have heard of rotavirus before or not, it may surprise you to know that you’ve probably had it. Nearly everyone in the world will have at least one rotavirus infection by age 3.

In wealthy countries, ready access to medical care means that few children will die from rotavirus. And with the recent availability of vaccines, the risk of dying, or of ever having to be hospitalized because of rotavirus, has dropped dramatically.

In the developing world, the situation is completely different. Rotavirus—the most common and lethal form of diarrhea—is one of the most deadly diseases a child will face.

This global health crisis can be solved by making rotavirus vaccines widely available in the developing world. The World Health Organization recommends that these vaccines be included in every country’s immunization program. What is lacking is the political will at all levels to make this happen.

Raising awareness about the toll of this disease and the promise that vaccines hold to save lives is critical for building political will. Recently, the scientific Journal of Infectious Diseases released a special supplement on rotavirus, Global Rotavirus Surveillance: Preparing for the Introduction of Rotavirus Vaccines. It provides a comprehensive review of the latest information about rotavirus disease and the role that vaccination can play.

Not only is rotavirus not well known as a major killer of children worldwide, but the fact that diarrheal disease is responsible for the death of 1.5 million young children each year in developing countries is lost on a world that takes for granted access to sanitation, clean water and basic health services. In a recent New York Times story the chief of health at UNICEF, Mickey Chopra, was quoted as saying, “All the attention has gone to more glamorous diseases, but this basic thing has been left behind. It’s a forgotten disease.”

Included below is a short release on the special rotavirus supplement.

To access the supplement, please visit:

For more information on rotavirus, read: Common Virus and Senseless Killer: Briefing Paper on Rotavirus

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World Pneumonia Day

November 2, 2009 is the first annual World Pneumonia Day, recognizing the world’s leading child killer as a global public health issue. A network of nearly 100 IGO, NGO, research and academic institutions, foundations, and community-based organizations have joined forces to raise awareness and urge governments and policymakers to combat this preventable illness. Each year, over 2 million children under the age of five die from pneumonia and pneumonia-related complications.

Although this is a great venture, it is surprising to see that this is the first campaign of its kind. Being the leading killer of children, it is outrageous to know this disease is not only treatable, but preventable. It leads me to wonder: “Why hasn’t more been done?” Mary Beth Powers, Campaign Chief of Save the Children said in an interview about pneumonia, “The sad thing is this is a disease that is largely preventable, and highly treatable.” This is not a disease that requires decades of scientific research to find a cure. Watch the movie.

According to leading public health organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, many deaths can be prevented through early vaccination, proper medication (antibiotics) and nutrition, and vitamin supplements, such as zinc that is not typically found in a lower-income diet. Read more about the cause, prevention and treatment of pneumonia at the World Pneumonia Day website.

I would encourage everyone to spread the word about World Pneumonia Day, so greater awareness is made. The coalition firmly believes these deaths can be avoided, and encourages others to join the fight against pneumonia by:

1. Signing the pledge to fight pneumonia
2. Joining the coalition
3. Donating to the cause
4. Educating others about pneumonia prevention, diagnosis and treatment
5. Participating in a World Pneumonia Day event