Haiti introduces rotavirus vaccine into routine immunization program

Haiti commemorated World Immunization Week on Saturday with the ceremonial introduction of the rotavirus vaccine into its routine immunization program.

With the help of the GAVI Alliance, Haiti's Ministry of Health plans to immunize more than 250,000 children against rotavirus, an extremely contagious disease that kills more than 2,200 Haitian children annually. Worldwide, rotavirus kills more than 1,200 children each day.

"Rotavirus vaccine offers the best hope for preventing the deadly, dehydrating diarrhea that rotavirus causes," Helen Evans, the deputy CEO of the GAVI Alliance, said. "Countries that have introduced rotavirus vaccine - as Haiti will do in the coming months - have experienced significant reductions in hospitalizations and deaths of children from severe diarrhea, underscoring the incredible potential to improve child health and save lives. GAVI is proud to partner in these efforts."

Haiti is the 14th GAVI-eligible country to introduce the rotavirus vaccine. The country has made major immunization strides in recent years, including last year's launch of the pentavalent vaccine with the support of GAVI. The pentavalent vaccine protects children against hepatitis B, Haemophilus influenza type B, pertussis, tetanus and diphtheria.

To further mark World Immunization Week, GAVI Alliance partner UNICEF began a nationwide campaign in Haiti to immunize women against maternal neonatal tetanus. The disease contributes to a high infant mortality rate of 57 per 1,000 live births in Haiti.

"Too many babies and mothers are still exposed to maternal and neonatal tetanus in Haiti," Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF's representative in Haiti, said. "In 2013, UNICEF and its partners will immunize more than one million women of reproductive age in 65 districts identified as high-risk."

The remaining districts in Haiti will be covered by the MNT campaign in 2014.