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GSK Taiwan donates rotavirus vaccine to Good Shepherd charity baby home

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The Taiwan branch of the multinational pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) yesterday donated its latest batch of rotavirus vaccines to a local charity organization as part of its global initiative to promote the welfare of children.

Since GSK introduced the rotavirus vaccines to Taiwan in 2006, the firm had donated free vaccination to the Tainan baby home run by the Good Shepherd Social Welfare Services among other charity organizations, said GSK Taiwan's Vice President and General Manager Thomas Willemsen yesterday.

Now in its seventh year, the donation program has provided 1,000 vaccine doses to children in need.

Rotavirus is a highly contagious virus that can cause diarrhea, especially among young children and infants. The virus has a basic reproductive rate (R0 value) of 20, which means one case of rotavirus infection can lead to over 20 cases in its infectious period, said Huang Li-min (黃立民), head of National Taiwan University Hospital's Department of Pediatric Infectious Diseases.

Citing a 1983 study published in the British Medical Journal, Huang pointed out that infants have a whopping 80-percent chance of contracting the rotavirus when they come into contact with a rotavirus carrier. Even adults have a 30-percent contraction rate.

“The virus is so effective that it can simply not be prevented by personal hygiene alone,” Huang said. The case is especially among young children and infants, he added, as they are less conscious of hygiene and personal boundaries than adults.

Rotavirus vaccines are currently not covered by Taiwan's national health insurance program. While the vaccines are affordable for most families, they can put a substantial financial burden to less privileged families and charity organizations that provide children care.

Xiang Pin (項蘋), supervisor of the nursing department of the Tainan baby home run by the Good Shepherd Social Welfare Services, explained the challenge rotavirus posted to her organization.

In its early years, the baby home was not financially capable to vaccinate all its children against rotavirus. Yet any inflection among the infants posts heavy medical cost and manpower burden for the charity. Caretakers will be strained caring for children suffering from diarrhea while trying hard to prevent inflections among other children. Due to the highly contagious nature of the virus, inflected children are generally sent straight for hospitalization, which spikes medical cost substantially.

From 2004 to 2006, the hospitalization rate of infants due to rotavirus decreased from 15 percent to 6 percent. Hospitalized children spent on average five days in the wards, with medical bills running over NT$30,000 per inflected child, Xiang pointed out.

Since GSK Taiwan's program in 2006, the hospitalization rate dropped drastically to 1.5 percent. The rate has stayed below 1 percent since 2009, she said. That translates to much fewer children suffering from diarrhea, more resource made available to childcare and less stress for caretakers.

Recognizing children's needs not merely for medical help but also for caring's sake, GSK Taiwan also works with the Good Shepherd Social Welfare Services to provide Christmas gifts to children in the organization's children homes.

Liu Hong-xin (劉宏信), chief executive of the Good Shepherd Social Welfare Services, pointed out that children who had witnessed domestic violence find it hard to spend the holiday season at the Services' shelter homes, as they are less inclined to ask their families for gifts. Influenced by their traumatic experience, some resort to violence themselves, taking toys from others by force. The GSK Taiwan's drive to give toys and other Christmas gifts to the Services' centers are “direly needed” as it means not only material gains but more importantly a sense of caring for the children, Liu said.



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 Saving one million children in five years: GSK sets ambitious goal and tangible mission 
Huang Li-min (黃立民), head of National Taiwan University Hospital's Department of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, explains the nature of rotavirus and the effectiveness of the rotavirus vaccine in Taipei, yesterday.

(Veronika Tomanova, Special to The China Post)

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