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Better Data, Better Advocacy

By Hope Randall, Communications Associate for DefeatDD at PATH

Feb 11, 2015

Posted in

A baby in Lusaka, Zambia, getting the rotavirus vaccine.  Photo: PATH/Gareth Bentley

A baby in Lusaka, Zambia, getting the rotavirus vaccine. Photo: PATH/Gareth Bentley

At DefeatDD, we can appreciate the need for strong immunization data. In fact, it was this priority that gave birth to the DefeatDD initiative and our integrated approach to defeating diarrheal disease.

Let me back up a few steps.

About eight years ago, PATH and our partners were intensively evaluating then-new rotavirus vaccines’ performance in the countries where the disease hits hardest. We also were helping conduct pivotal surveillance that showed the magnitude of rotavirus morbidity and mortality in the developing world, as well as their potential cost-effectiveness and logistical implications when introduced into national immunization programs. Another part of our role was to share these data and put them in context for Ministers of Health to help inform their decisions when rotavirus vaccines ultimately became available and accessible through WHO prequalification.

We learned some key lessons from our discussions with country stakeholders. Many of them had never heard of rotavirus, despite that it was the most lethal form of childhood diarrheal disease. But they did know that diarrhea was a major problem. The vaccine was all well and good, they said, but they wanted a broader approach to diarrheal disease. Thus, DefeatDD and our integrated approach were born, to advocate for rotavirus vaccines within a powerful platform of prevention and treatment solutions.

And that made sense. Like our in-country partners, we knew, practically, that it would take more than rotavirus vaccines to prevent needless deaths from diarrhea. Tools like safe drinking water and sanitation, ORS, zinc, breastfeeding, and nutrition are also important. Bringing these crucial data to their fullest potential by educating health workers alongside health ministers would also bridge our research with clinical practice. But we also knew that awareness of the diarrhea burden among country stakeholders and donors more broadly would (and should) consequently create awareness and demand for rotavirus vaccines, too. And we needed strong data to make our arguments, particularly among those policymakers who didn’t necessarily realize that rotavirus is a major killer, and that there is a vaccine against it. Data we’d collected on supply chain, cold chain, data management, and other logistical issues helped us lay a foundation of awareness and create a roadmap of vaccine introduction for policymakers.

The introduction of rotavirus vaccines is an unfolding success story, having occurred in more than 70 countries and counting. It was made possible because of the data PATH and many others had collected and shared about rotavirus burden, vaccine performance, and barriers to access and availability. DefeatDD and the BID Initiative stand at slightly different points in the same information gap, seeking ways to bridge awareness and action.

Better data mean better targeting of resources and better advocacy, which help DefeatDD and our partners celebrate success and call for what’s still missing. We’re grateful that groups like the BID Initiative are finding innovative ways to help us develop more powerful and persuasive advocacy efforts.

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