Thousands of children’s lives to be protected with rotavirus vaccines in Malawi

Originally appeared on the Results UK blog. Mark Staniland is the Vaccine Advocacy Coordinator for Results UK. Within the ACTION partnership, he generates political will and financial support at the UK and EU levels to increase access to vaccines in developing countries. 

Malawi, affectionately known as Africa’s ‘warm heart’, has become the latest in a growing number of African countries to introduce the rotavirus vaccine. This will offer its children the best possible protection against the primary cause of diarrhoea, a leading cause of under-five mortality globally, accounting for 11% of all deaths.

The integration of rotavirus vaccine into Malawi’s national immunisation programme is being supported by the GAVI Alliance, a public-private partnership focused on saving children’s lives and protecting people’s health by increasing access to immunisation in poor countries.

If used in all GAVI-eligible countries (57 low-income countries at present), rotavirus vaccines could prevent an estimated 180,000 deaths and avert six million clinic and hospital visits each year, subsequently saving an estimated US $68 million per year in treatment costs. By 2015 GAVI and its partners plan to have supported the immunisation of more than 50 million children with rotavirus vaccine in at least 40 of the world’s poorest countries. You can read the full press release from the GAVI Alliance here.

Back on the right track

2012 has been a year of much change for Malawi. Joyce Banda became its new president, replacing Bingu wa Mutharika who died suddenly from a heart attack in April. Mutharika’s last years in power were somewhat troubled, with donor capitals growing frustrated with his increasingly authoritarian style. This came to a head when the UK temporarily suspended part of it aid to Malawi in 2011 after a diplomatic dispute.

With Banda now at the helm, there have been encouraging signs emerging out of Malawi that this impoverished part of Southern Africa is moving in the right direction again. These have been both symbolic and of real weight.

Banda sold the presidential jet controversially purchased by Mutharika, disbanded the fleet of government cars, and even took a 30% pay cut to share in the “difficult times” suffered by her countrymen. She has pushed parliament to repeal laws that censored the media and gave police unrestrained powers, as well as suggesting laws criminalising homosexuality should be over turned. Furthermore, Banda has also become a champion for gender equality across the continent, being only its second female leader after Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Foreign investment has begun to return, including $150 million from the World Bank in support of the reform agenda and $350 million from the United States to revitalise Malawi’s power sector. UK aid, 39% of which goes to the health sector, has also begun to flow again. Rapprochement with the UK has also led to the Bank of England working directly with the Reserve Bank of Malawi to help it cope with the impact of slashing the value of the local currency, the kwacha.

Malawi is a country with immense challenges ahead of it, whether it be a struggling economy or an embattled health sector. Yet, news of a new vaccine’s introduction along with trickles of other encouraging news illustrate how Malawians and the international community are beginning to move the country in the right direction again.