It is not very often that we, as public health researchers and practitioners, sit back and take stock of what we’ve achieved–how we’ve changed the world–with our careers and God-given talents. This is even truer for researchers who toil everyday breaking new grounds, transforming how we live our lives without sitting back to trump their chests on their achievements. To take a departure from this, this blog will, in the next few weeks, begin the publication of seven key ways in which researchers in the field of maternal and child health helped to transform the lives of children and families around the world–forever! These achievements are brought to you courtesy of the fabulous work by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) under its new campaign 7 Great Achievements in Pediatric Research. We hope after reading these achievements you will sit back and say, yes, we did! On a personal note, I am so grateful to God for giving me the distinct opportunity to be part of 2 of these 7 achievements. I am so humbled and grateful to all individuals who gave me the opportunity to be part of these transformations of human life, albeit in very modest ways. With tears of gratitude in my eyes, I bring you the first of the 7 Great Achievements.
NO. 1: PREVENTING DISEASE WITH LIFE-SAVING IMMUNIZATIONS
What was the Problem?
Rotavirus infection remains the leading cause of severe diarrheal illness and dehydration in children worldwide.
In 2008, about 450,000 children worldwide under 5 years old died from vaccine-preventable rotavirus infection. Prior to vaccine development, rotavirus caused 20-60 deaths each year in U.S. children under 5 years of age. Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) is a bacteria that causes many different types of disease in children younger than 5 years of age, including brain infection (meningitis), lung infection (pneumonia), and severe throat infection (epiglottitis). Prior to the Hib vaccine, about 20,000 U.S. children had Hib infections every year, and up to 1,200 children died.
What was the Discovery?
Vaccine research includes developing vaccines in laboratories, testing effectiveness in humans, testing ways to get children vaccinated and reducing barriers to immunizations.
Research into the development of a vaccine to protect against rotavirus infection started in the mid- 1970s. Studies elucidated the effect of rotavirus on a child’s immune system and how initial exposure to the virus protected that child from future illness.
Once the prototypal rotavirus vaccine was created, subsequent research tested ways of improving its efficacy while maximizing safety. Following research and many efficacy and safety studies, the first rotavirus vaccine for widespread public use was approved in 2006.
Studies showed that the most severe infections from Hib tended to occur in young infants, due to their immature immune systems. A multi-dose vaccine schedule was created in order to maximize the protection of infants from infection with Hib, with the first dose given at 2 months of age.
How did the Discovery Change the World?
Receiving the full schedule of rotavirus immunization decreases the occurrence of gastroenteritis by 86% and required hospitalization for gastroenteritis by 96%. Since the administration of the vaccine, the yearly cases of Hib infection have decreased by 99%. Currently, most mortality from Hib occurs in developing countries, where vaccination is not routine.
For more information about the 7 Great Achievements of Pediatric Research visit AAP website.