March 23, 2017 / 8:08 AM / 4 months ago

Cheap, heat-proof rotavirus vaccine "game changer" for African children

3 Min Read

DAKAR, March 23 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An inexpensive, heat-proof vaccine could mark a turning point in expanding resistance to the diarrhoea-causing rotavirus infection across sub-Saharan Africa, medical aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres said.

The new vaccine, known as BRV-PV, was tested in West African country Niger, and shown to be safe and effective against rotavirus, according to trial results published in the New England Journal of Medicine this week.

Rotavirus is the leading cause of severe diarrhoea and kills an estimated 1,300 children a day, mostly in Africa.

It is preventable, but the two existing vaccines must be refrigerated at all times, making them difficult to transport and administer in hot countries where electricity is unreliable.

The new vaccine does not require refrigeration, and costs under $2.50 per treatment, about half the price of others.

"This is a game changer," said Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) medical director Micaela Serafini.

"It's a vaccine that fits much more with what we believe are the needs in Africa," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The low-cost and heat-stable aspects of the vaccine should allow African countries to administer it on a larger scale than is currently possible, she said.

Manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, it is also adapted to the strains of rotavirus found in sub-Saharan Africa.

In an MSF trial involving more than 4,000 young children in Niger, the vaccine had a 66.7 percent efficacy rate against severe gastroenteritis, slightly less than existing vaccines but still satisfactory, said Serafini.

There is also a shortage of the two vaccines now in use, which the new one will help fill, she added.

"This (initiative) came out of frustration. We see so many vaccines that are difficult to implement in the field," Serafini said.

MSF hopes to adapt other vaccines in similar ways, she added.

The vaccine is currently under review by the World Health Organization and could be available in a matter of months, she said. (Reporting by Nellie Peyton; editing by Megan Rowling; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/)

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