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RVF has partnered with the Palestinian Ministry of Health (MOH) to provide for the universal vaccination of all infants in the West Bank and Gaza against rotavirus infection, which causes severe and potentially fatal diarrhea in babies. The vaccination program, launched in early 2016, protects the entire birth cohort in the West Bank and Gaza, approximately 120,000 babies annually, from the scourge of this vaccine-preventable disease. Rotavirus vaccine is considered essential for every child by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). This basic right has now been extended to all Palestinian babies in Gaza and the West Bank.

Minister of Health Awwad administers the first dose of rotavirus vaccine to babies to mark the beginning of this three-year rotavirus vaccination initiative. (Photo credit: Ma'an News)

Minister of Health Awwad administers the first dose of rotavirus vaccine to babies to mark the beginning of this three-year rotavirus vaccination initiative. (Photo credit: Ma’an News)

In partnering with the Palestinian MOH the RVF draws on its extensive experience in designing and supporting sustainable children’s vaccination programs worldwide, including in the West Bank and Gaza. In 2010 the RVF successfully introduced the universal vaccination of infants in the West Bank and Gaza against pneumococcal disease using the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, a program that has been fully sustained by the Palestinian MOH since January 2013. Vaccination coverage rates exceed 95%.

TOT Program in Gaza City, held Nov. 4, 2015

TOT Program in Gaza City, held Nov. 2015

Rotavirus is the leading cause of severe and fatal diarrhea in children under five years of age. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that globally, rotavirus is responsible for the deaths of more than 527,000 children each year and for over 40% of all hospitalizations for diarrheal disease in children under 5 years of age. Vaccination is the best way to prevent severe rotavirus infection. It cannot be cured or prevented with drugs such as antibiotics. The WHO recommends that the rotavirus vaccine be included in all national immunization programs.

Rotavirus disease poses a serious threat to the health of young children in the Palestinian Territories due to the high rates of poverty and the destruction of water and sewer infrastructure caused by the recent conflict in Gaza.

Representatives from RVF, Palestinian Ministry of Health and UAE Red Crescent Authority attend gathering of key Palestinian medical personnel to announce the universal vaccination of babies in the West Bank and Gaza against rotavirus disease

Representatives from RVF, Palestinian Ministry of Health and UAE Red Crescent Authority attend gathering of key Palestinian medical personnel to announce the universal vaccination of babies in the West Bank and Gaza against rotavirus disease

Minister of Health, Dr. Jawad al-Awwad, administered the inaugural dose of rotavirus vaccine to a 2-month old girl at a Ramallah clinic on February 25, 2016, marking the beginning of the three-year program to vaccinate all infants in the West Bank and Gaza against rotavirus..

As of  April 1, 2017, a  total of 119,201 infants in both the West Bank and Gaza were vaccinated with the first dose of rotavirus vaccine.  The coverage rate is 99%. 95,632 of those infants have also received the second dose of the vaccine. The coverage rate is 97%.

In addition to providing the rotavirus vaccine over the course of three years, the RVF is providing ongoing training to local health care workers, who are the sole implementers of the program. RVF reps are monitoring program implementation and working with the Palestinian MOH to ensure the inclusion of the program in the national health budget following the completion of the RVF’s direct assistance in 2019.

This initiative is made possible by generous funding from the Red Crescent of the UAE and USAID, with additional support from the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, and operational support from UNRWA, the UN Agency serving Palestinian refugees.

Read more about RVF’s work in the West Bank and Gaza here