Everyone's heard of diarrhoea. Almost 100,000 children in India die every year of painful viral diarrhoea caused by the Rota virus. Seemingly innocuous, these viruses that mainly affect children are a nightmare for every parent.
But now there's good news. Indian scientists from Bharat Biotech Ltd in Hyderabad, have developed a new oral vaccine against the Rota virus. If given in three doses, it can prevent children from a type of diarrhoea where both vomiting and loose motion can severely dehydrate children very quickly.
The "positive" results with an "excellent safety and efficacy profile" in the clinical trial were announced in New Delhi by K Vijayraghavan, the Secretary of the Department of Biotechnology who calls it an "important scientific breakthrough, which could saves lives of thousands of children."
While announcing the results Mr Vijayragahavan said, "The vaccine reduced severe Rota virus diarrhoea by more than 56 per cent during first year of life, with protection continuing into the second year of life. Moreover, the vaccine also showed impact against severe diarrhoea of any cause."
The vaccine was first identified by researchers at the All Indian Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi way back in 1985. Since then, with over $100 million in funding including that from the Indian government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, it is now ready for use in children as soon as the regulatory approvals come through.
The Rotavac vaccine against diarrhoea has gone through a rigorous clinical trial, both in USA and India. Some 7000 children have been part of this trial. The company says informed and ethical consent was taken from pregnant mothers so that new-born children could be given the vaccine. The final trial has been conducted in New Delhi, Pune and Vellore. Each mother was provided a free mobile phone to report any complications and each child's medical care was promised but no money was paid to the participants.
But will it provide immunity to children all over India since the virus has a lot of genetic variability?
"Vaccines work to save and protect children from diseases like Rotavirus for a lifetime," said Bill Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "This public-private partnership is an exemplary model of how to develop affordable technologies that save lives."
"This is the first new vaccine developed in India. We are the first developing country to do it, and this gives us confidence. I am proud to say we have now joined the bandwagon of the multinational club and we can also develop a new vaccine, says Dr Krishna Ella, chairman cum managing director, Bharat Biotech Ltd.
Roger I Glass, a noted researcher on rotavirus and Director of the Fogarty International Center, US National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, a partner institution in this development says "we cannot feel content until this vaccine reaches all Indian children and achieves a measurable impact to reduce the 100,000 deaths and millions of cases of rotavirus diarrhoea that occur in India each year."
Experts have estimated that India spends almost Rs 400 million every year in hospitalizations due to the the Rota virus infection. Bharat Biotech says it can sell it for under Rs 50 a dose for children. It does seem like affordable health care at its best.