23 January 2012 – I am delighted to note that the Global Alliance for Vaccinations and Immunisation (GAVI) has announced plans to provide life saving rotavirus vaccines for children in the Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya.
The Dadaab complex is the world’s largest refugee camp and plays host to approximately 500,000 inhabitants, a population centre roughly the same size as Manchester. The camp was established in 1991 as a temporary measure to shelter refugees fleeing violence in areas of Somalia but it has grown dramatically since and now ranks as the third largest population centre in Kenya, behind the capital Nairobi and the port of Mombasa.
The camp is estimated to grow at a rate of 1,300 new inhabitants every day and presents a number of healthcare challenges, with malnutrition, respiratory tract infections and diarrhoea particularly rife.
The announcement by GAVI is extremely welcome and has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives. Rotavirus is the single largest cause of diarrheal disease amongst children and infants, accounting for nearly half a million deaths worldwide. Alongside pneumonia this makes rotavirus one of the leading killers of children in the developing world.
The agreement between GAVI and the Kenyan Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation will see GAVI provide a regular supply of the rotavirus vaccine for use in the Dadaab camp. The Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation had already planned to roll-out the rotavirus vaccine for the rest of the country in 2013 and this announcement will mean that children in the Dadaab camp will not be missed out.
In my capacity as Co-Chair of the APPG for Global Action Against Childhood Pneumonia I worked for many year to champion the roll-out of vaccines globally. Last year I met and liaised with representatives from DFID, GAVI and UNICEF to discuss the issue of vaccination in the Dadaab camp. I also discussed the matter with Baroness Northover, the Department for International Development Spokesperson in the Lords, who promised to look into the issue.
Until now the key focus of the APPG has been on pneumonia, however in 2012 we intend to expand our work to include rotavirus and diarrhoeal disease. Following visits to Kenya and Bangladesh group members were dismayed to see firsthand the terrible impact that rotavirus and diarrheal disease was having on child mortality rates in both countries.
I am extremely proud of the UK’s continued commitment to helping to fund life saving vaccines for children in the developing world. The key role that DFID have played in helping to bring about this new agreement with GAVI is further proof that the UK remains a leading force for change in international development policy.