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RVF has signed an agreement with the UAE Red Crescent Authority, USAID and 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 protects the entire birth cohort in the West Bank and Gaza, approximately 120,000 babies annually, from the scourge of this vaccine-preventable disease. USAID is supporting the vaccination of infants in 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)

As of  January 1, 2017, a  total of 85,252 infants in both the West Bank and Gaza were vaccinated with the first dose of rotavirus vaccine.  The coverage rate is 97%. 59,988 of those infants have also received the second dose of the vaccine.

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.

Training of Trainer (TOT) sessions for healthcare workers on the rotavirus vaccine began in November 2015. Trainers trained as part of these sessions returned to their home districts to train fellow health care workers. These training sessions are currently ongoing in each district of the West Bank and Gaza. A total 1,196 of medical doctors and nurses trained in West Bank and 343 doctors, nurses and pharmacists trained in Gaza. Social mobilization efforts are also ongoing.

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

In partnering with the Palestinian MOH in this program 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%.

In addition to providing the rotavirus vaccine over the course of the next three years, the RVF is providing training for local health care workers, who are the sole implementers of the program, as well as monitor program implementation and ensure that the Palestinian MOH finances the program in full following the completion of the RVF’s direct involvement in 2019.

This initiative is made possible by generous funding from USAID, the Red Crescent of the UAE, 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