Less than two years since launch, the rotavirus vaccine goes national in Zambia

For the past two years, ARK has been working with the Centre for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia (CIDRZ) to control diarrhoea, one of the leading causes of death in children. Piloting in Lusaka Province, our three-year programme aims to halve diarrhoeal deaths and reduce overall child mortality by 15% through a combination of prevention and treatment.

Introducing a new vaccine; saving hundreds of thousands of lives

A key component of prevention is the introduction of the rotavirus vaccine, a new two-dose oral vaccine that prevents one of the most virulent strains of the disease. When we launched in January 2012, Zambia became only the second country in sub-Saharan Africa to trial the vaccine. Such was the success of the pilot that the government will today launch their national campaign, ensuring every child in the country is protected against rotavirus.

Building the capacity and systems to ensure a seamless introduction

Introducing a new vaccine into a national immunisation programme is no small feat: cold storage facilities need to be expanded, transport systems need to be strengthened, health workers need to be trained and communities need to be encouraged to bring their babies to the clinic at the correct times. It's a long, inter-connected chain of activities that can be easily derailed. Sudan, the first country in the region to introduce the rotavirus vaccine, took more than four years from initial discussions to national roll out.

ARK and CIDRZ worked hand in hand with the Ministry of Health for a year before our programme launched to ensure those links and chains were either strengthened or forged. That work paid off, not only in the successful pilot of the programme which to date has seen over 99,000 babies fully immunised, but also in laying the groundwork for what is now a national immunisation campaign.

A landmark day for Zambia

Today, as the Minister of Child Health launches the national roll out, we celebrate a milestone in our programme, but most importantly it is a milestone for Zambia, where every child in the country will soon have access to the life-saving rotavirus vaccine.  

Over the next 12 months, our programme will continue to support the government to address the burden of diarrhoeal disease by:

  • Working to improve rotavirus immunisation coverage in Lusaka Province
  • Training health workers to administer vaccines and to treat diarrhoea effectively with oral rehydration therapy and zinc
  • Providing communities with support and education on diarrhoea treatment, vaccination and prevention strategies

Our programme in Zambia is supported by Comic Relief, GlaxoSmithKline and The Global Alliance for Vaccinations and Immunisation.

Watch our launch video to find out more about the programme.

Our partner CIDRZ has also written a blog post about the programme.