This article first appeared in The Guardian (Nigeria).
• Disease causing over 160,000 yearly under-five deaths
• Enugu with highest prevalence rate in Africa
THE deadly rotavirus continues to ravage Nigerian children unchecked and remains a leading cause of severe diarrhea and dehydration in infants and young children, according to a recent study, despite the availability of its vaccine worldwide.
Investigations have also revealed that vaccination against rotavirus diarrhea is one of those recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for all children worldwide.
Rotavirus is seen as the primary cause of diarrhea-related illnesses and deaths, and according to experts, is responsible for 160,000 deaths in under-five Nigerian children each year.
However, a new study published in the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal revealed that the vaccines are available, but Nigeria was yet to introduce them. The publication stressed: “This study found a relatively high incidence of severe rotavirus-associated diarrhea disease in Nigeria and infants were the most affected.
“It highlights the urgent need for introduction of rotavirus vaccine into the national immunisation programme and the need to adequately equip health facilities to enable them administer intravenous fluids to severe diarrhea patients to reduce morbidity and mortality.”
The researchers found that rotavirus is responsible for close to 56 per cent of cases of diarrhea in children and that more cases occur in the cool dry months of the year, a finding now regarded as one of the highest rates of diarrhea caused by rotavirus.
Reports indicate that vaccines are known to offer the best protection, and have been proved in different studies to be safe and effective in Africa and around the world.
Unfortunately, however, rotavirus vaccines are not yet included in Nigeria’s immunisation programme.
“If Nigerian leaders take action, these life-saving vaccines could be introduced as early as 2015. Every child is vulnerable regardless of where they live, and for those in places without medical care, it can be a death sentence,” the report noted.
As a WHO factsheet on the virus indicates, “most symptomatic episodes occur in young children between three months and two years. The virus spreads rapidly, presumably through person-to-person contact, airborne droplets, or possibly contact with contaminated toys.
“Symptoms usually appear approximately two to three days after infection, and include projectile vomiting and very watery diarrhoea, often with fever and abdominal pain. The first infection is usually the worst one.
“There is no specific drug treatment for rotavirus infection, though oral rehydration therapy is recommended. There are now two new rotavirus vaccines to prevent severe rotavirus disease.”
Meanwhile, the study, “Epidemiology of Rotavirus Diarrhea Among Children Younger Than Five Years in Enugu, South-East Nigeria” was recently conducted and the results published in Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal – an official publication of the European Society for Paediatric Infectious Diseases.
The Guardian learnt that researchers from the Ministry of Health, Institute for Child Health, University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, and WHO recently examined the prevalence of rotavirus in hospitalised children under-five.
The study was conducted in Enugu and found that the percentage of positive cases reported was the highest level observed to date by the WHO Regional Office for Africa in Africa. Among others, it also found that over half (56 per cent) of children under five hospitalised with diarrhea had rotavirus, while almost all (96 per cent) were less than two years old.
It also describes January as the peak month for the infections, as 95 per cent of cases occurred between December and April. It particularly drew attention to the urgent need to protect Nigerian children from the virus.
When contacted, officials of the Ministry of Health referred The Guardian to the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA), which had the mandate for vaccination, which Executive Director, Dr. Ado Mohammed, was not forthcoming.
However, President of the Nigerian Academy of Science, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, confirmed that the vaccines had not been introduced in Nigeria and stressed the urgent need for government to introduce it into the nation’s vaccination programme.
According to him, many of the countries that have introduced Rota vaccine no longer contend with polio, while measles is a minor problem. He noted: “The government has introduced new vaccines and plans to introduce more between now and 2015.
“The vaccines include Penta, Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV), Human Papilloma Virus Vaccine (HPV), Tetanus and fractional diphtheria (Td), measles-rubella vaccine (MRV) and rotavirus vaccine”.