December 6, 2011 | The Editors

In Sudan, seeing promise in a new vaccine

PATH’s Doune Porter was in Sudan recently to observe vaccinations to protect children from rotavirus, the most common cause of severe diarrhea in young children. You can learn more about the work of PATH and our partners in developing and delivering vaccines in our special feature, Power of Vaccines. Meanwhile, here’s Doune’s report from Khartoum.

I was anxious about keeping them waiting—our schedule was packed, the traffic was horrendous, it was hot, and it was Ramadan, when practicing Muslims refrain from eating and drinking during daylight hours.

Health workers and mothers with babies were waiting for us at the Sharwani Health Center in the suburbs of Khartoum. Because they were breastfeeding, the mothers had been free to eat and drink. But the health workers had not had even a sip of water all day—and the afternoon was wearing on.

Click on images to enlarge.

I was in Sudan to help make a film for a PATH partner, the GAVI Alliance, about the country’s introduction of a vaccine against rotavirus, the leading cause of severe infant diarrhea. Sudan is one of the first countries in Africa to introduce the vaccine and, as in many African countries, practically everyone has known or known about a child who has suffered from severe diarrhea, which can be deadly. Many more countries across the continent are now preparing to introduce the vaccine, which will save the lives of millions of children in the coming years.

A chance for health, and hilarity

We had asked everyone to wait because we wanted to see the whole vaccination session. These sessions provide more than just a vaccine. They are also opportunities for mothers and babies to check in with health workers, who teach the mothers about healthy practices and weigh the babies to monitor their growth.

With the assistance of colleagues from the Ministry of Health and UNICEF, we explained our purpose and asked for permission to take photographs. Everyone seemed a little unsure at first, but thanks to digital photography, we were able to show the mothers pictures of themselves and their babies. The session rapidly descended into hilarity, mothers and health workers hamming it up for the camera.

“We have lost so many children”

And they were also clearly excited about the vaccine their babies were getting. Rotavirus is highly contagious, and the severe diarrhea it causes can be devastating for very young children, who are particularly vulnerable to the sometimes fatal effects of dehydration.

“The rotavirus vaccine will protect our children,” Hayad Adam Mohammed, the vaccination technician leading the session, told me. “We are so happy, the feeling we have about it is indescribable. I only wish it could have been introduced a long time ago, because we have lost so many children, even in my own family, to acute diarrhea.”

As part of the GAVI Alliance–funded Accelerated Vaccine Introduction initiative, PATH is helping to make sure rotavirus vaccines (as well as vaccines that protect children against the leading cause of pneumonia) are introduced more quickly than has traditionally been the case with new vaccines in developing countries. We may have been late to the clinic in Khartoum, but we’re working to make sure children don’t have to wait much longer for lifesaving vaccines.

Global health quiz

A year ago today, partners PATH and the World Health Organization helped launch a vaccine that could potentially end epidemics of a devastating disease that sweep across a wide swath of Africa. Which disease is on the run, and what’s the nickname of the region where epidemics occur? See the answer on Friday.

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