A major new study has shown that rotavirus vaccination reduced infant diarrhea deaths by one-third in rural Malawi, a region with high levels of child deaths.

The study led by scientists at the University of Liverpool, University College London, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and partners in Malawi provides the first population-level evidence from a low-income country that rotavirus vaccination saves lives. The Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Programme were the central hub managing the national evaluation of new vaccine introductions in Malawi.

The findings, published in The Lancet Global Health, add considerable weight to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommendation for rotavirus vaccine to be included in all national immunization programmes.

Professor Nigel Cunliffe from the University of Liverpool’s Centre for Global Vaccine Research, one of the study leads and a member of the ROTA Council, said: “Rotavirus remains a leading cause of severe diarrhoea and death among infants and young children in many countries in Africa and Asia. Our findings strongly advocate for the incorporation of rotavirus vaccine into the childhood immunization programmes of countries with high rates of diarrhoea deaths, and support continued use in such countries where a vaccine has been introduced.”

ROTA Council Chair and Professor of International Health and Pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University Mathuram Santosham said:

The findings of this study provide additional strong evidence of the ability of rotavirus vaccines to reduce diarrheal mortality in children. In the past five years, the number of countries that include rotavirus vaccines in their national immunization program has nearly doubled to 96, and this now includes many large countries, such as Pakistan and India, where a phased introduction will ultimately reach over 20 million children annually.

However, despite recent progress, the majority of infants worldwide still live in countries or states that have yet to introduce the vaccine. While there has been much progress made in introducing rotavirus vaccines in low-income countries, many middle-income countries have yet to introduce the vaccines. There is an urgent need to protect all children.

Read the full press release.

Read the study at the Lancet Global Health.

Photo by Dr. Carina King, one of the study’s lead authors