UN backs new vaccine to protect Kiribati children from life-threatening diarrhoea

Kiribati children will be better protected from a potentially killer virus when the small island nation becomes one of the first countries in the Pacific to introduce the rotavirus vaccine. The Kiribati Ministry of Health and Medical Services announced the introduction of the rotavirus vaccine in its routine immunisation schedule today as part of a comprehensive child survival package. 

From today the vaccine to help prevent severe and life-threatening diarrhoea among infants is being introduced across all provinces in Kiribati, with support from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organisation (WHO).

In the past five years Kiribati has experienced repeated diarrhoea outbreaks, many caused by rotavirus, leading to hospitalisation and even deaths of children under the age of five.

UNICEF works for children with programmes to support child survival, education and wellbeing. Its support of a routine rotavirus immunisation programme in Kiribati is funded by the New Zealand Government and UNICEF Australia.

“Rotavirus affects nearly every child under the age of five years and globally is the leading cause of severe, dehydrating diarrhoea in infants. Introducing this vaccine will help to reduce the number of children in Kiribati dying from preventable illness,” UNICEF Pacific Representative Dr. Karen Allen said.

“UNICEF will provide technical and financial support to the Kiribati Government for the next three years to strengthen links between immunisation, especially the rotavirus vaccine, and existing programmes focused on nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene.”

Dr. Allen applauded the Kiribati Government for its continued partnership to improve the health and lives of children, especially its work to prioritise solutions to end the two leading causes of death among children under the age of five: pneumonia and diarrhea.

UNICEF also noted that prevention is key for diarrhoeal diseases. In addition to the rotavirus vaccine, nearly 90 per cent of child deaths due to diarrhoea can be prevented with simple solutions. Breastfeeding provides vitamins and nutrients that help infants to avoid diarrhoeal disease and recover more quickly. Good sanitation and hand washing with soap are other low-cost and highly effective ways to protect children from diarrhoea.