The health ministry on Saturday launched the rotavirus vaccine as part of its universal immunisation programme to prevent diarrhoeal deaths due to the virus which claims lives of nearly one lakh children every year.
Health minister J P Nadda called it a “historic” moment and “exemplary” step in India’s immunisation programme and an essential investment in children, the future of the country.
Rotavirus, a leading cause of severe diarrhoea and death among children less than five years of age, is responsible for around 10% of total child mortality every year. In 2014, nearly 80,000 children died due to to rotavirus, whereas about 9 lakh were hospitalised due to episodes of severe diarrhoea.
“Adding this life-saving vaccine to our immunisation programme will not only improve the health of our children but also reduce hospitalisation and other conditions associated with diarrhoea due to rotavirus such as malnutrition and delayed physical and mental development among children. Reduced hospitalisation eases the economic burden on the family and the health cost burden on the country,” Nadda said, while rolling out the vaccine in Bhubaneswar.
He said the rotavirus vaccine has been developed indigenously under a public-private partnership by the ministries of science and technology and health and family welfare. It’s a landmark achievement under the ‘Make in India’ initiative, he stated.
The vaccine, developed by Indian firm Bharat Biotech will be initially introduced in four states — Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Odisha. Its coverage will be expanded to the entire country in a phased manner.
An estimated 8.53 lakh children under the age of one will be administered the vaccine annually at 6, 10 and 14 weeks. The health ministry is planning to introduce three other vaccines under its universal immunisation programme, the largest public health initiative in the country. These include Inactivated Polio Vaccine, Measles, Rubella vaccine and Adult Japanese Encephalitis vaccine.
India continues to have the greatest number of child deaths from pneumonia and diarrhoea. A recent Lancet study claimed that a “single episode of diarrhoea increases the risk of death of a child by 8 times”.
While the vaccine was already available in open market, the local manufacturing and free distribution under the centrally-sponsored immunisation programme is expected to further bring down prices.