Dr. Amani A. Mustafa shares the progress of rotavirus vaccine rollout in Sudan
Dr. Amani Abdelmoniem Mustafa vaccinates a child against rotavirus in Sudan. Photo courtesy of PATH
KHARTOUM, Sudan – Two months ago, a 42-day-old infant named Jasir Tarig was vaccinated against rotavirus at a ceremony here in Khartoum. He was the very first child in Sudan to be vaccinated against a disease that kills more than a quarter million African children each year. Almost every child in Sudan suffers terribly from diarrhea, especially during the first year of their life, and rotavirus is the leading cause of severe diarrhea. So it was very exciting to watch as Jasir – and hundreds of other infants – were finally given a chance at a future free from the misery of this disease and its possible death sentence.
My immunization team was determined that the vaccine would reach infants not only in the cities, but throughout the country. We can now say we achieved this goal, but it wasn’t easy. Sudan is an immense country with geographical challenges, isolated villages without health facilities, and security issues. If there was flooding, we used boats or rafts. If roads were blocked, we used tractors. Sometimes vaccines were transported on camels. Sudan has waited so long for this vaccine that we will not let these challenges get in our way. We will not miss any child.
We also worked hard to get the word out to communities that the new vaccine would help prevent severe diarrhea and save children’s lives. We shared the message in schools, and students then shared it with their mothers who shared it with their neighbors. We placed announcements and information in newspapers and SMS, on radio and TV, at health centers and on road signs. If you were walking down the road, you got the message. If you watched TV, you got the message.
Because the rotavirus vaccine is new to us we’ve monitored the introduction of the vaccine closely. Recently I returned to the health clinic where Jasir received his vaccine. I had been especially touched by Jasir and his mother, who had waited 10 years for a child. When I learned that he – and all the other children vaccinated that day – had come in for their second doses on schedule and were well, I felt I could finally relax.
Sudan is the first country in Africa to introduce the rotavirus vaccine with the support of the GAVI Alliance. We hope our experience will encourage other African countries to apply for support from GAVI, so our continent no longer carries the staggering burden of a quarter million deaths due to rotavirus.
All children deserve to be vaccinated and live healthy lives. Vaccination is a human right. The rotavirus vaccine must reach every child by any means, irrespective of their situation. We should all work to make this a reality.
GAVI announced that rotavirus vaccines will soon be rolled out in other African countries. Watch a short film in which immunization experts, health workers, and mothers from Sudan and Tanzania talk about the need for the vaccines and their hope for the future. Watch a short film in which immunization experts, health workers, and mothers from Sudan and Tanzania talk about the need for the vaccines and their hope for the future.
Dr. Amani Abdelmoniem Mustafa manages the Expanded Program on Immunization for Sudan. Read her blog on the launch of the rotavirus vaccine in Sudan this past July.