A new vaccine developed by the University of Maryland School of Medicine for Vaccine Development could make childhood diarrheal diseases a nightmare of the past. Because diarrheal diseases are the second leading cause of death among children globally, this new study is urgently needed to better identify specific pathogens and to pinpoint the areas where the infection rate is the highest.
The Global Enteric Multicenter Study (GEMS) was intended to more fully inform health and policy experts about which specific pathogen of diarrheal disease is affecting which specific region of the world. It did so by using a consistent methodology across seven of the countries with the heaviest instances of the diseases. It enrolled over 20,000 children in its three-year duration.
In this modern day and age, we have the ability to reduce the transmission rates of such diseases through increase in health education and water sanitation. We are even able to treat children who have already contracted the disease with oral re-hydration and zinc therapy. But vaccines are the most powerful way to ensure a drastic decrease in the disease’s effects, especially among children.
In a study of forty pathogens, the researchers discovered that only four are responsible for the most common and severe cases of diarrheal disease: rotavirus, Cryptosporidium, Shigella, and ST-ETC, which is a type of E. coli.
There are two existing vaccines for rotavirus, both of which the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends for every country to include in their national immunization programs. Vaccines for the other three leading pathogens, however, have not yet been developed.
Approximately 300,000 children die before their fifth birthday each year from either Shigella or ST-ETC. Particularly after the GEM study, the push from the WHO for the development of a vaccine against these two pathogens has strengthened significantly.
The second most common cause of diarrhea, Cryptosporidium, was found to be much more common by the GEM study than was previously thought. Because of this, there are no vaccines even in the development stage. Only one drug is available on the market for its treatment.
As the data surrounding diarrheal diseases is steadily increasing (through studies such as GEMS), it is imperative that we use it intelligently. It is widely thought that vaccines are the most cost-effective way to decrease a child’s likeliness to catch a diarrheal disease. This is an important idea for health and policy experts to keep in mind when prioritizing investments in global health.
– Kathryn Cassibry
Photo: Yoknyam Dabale