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Toddler Wilson Garcia Obando lying in a hospital bed.

Two-year-old Wilson was hospitalized with severe diarrhea—but recovered, thankfully. Now newborns in Nicaragua receive a vaccine against rotavirus.

A vaccine against severe diarrhea is keeping children out of Nicaragua’s hospital wards

On Friday, little Wilson Garcia Obando got a stomachache. At home in Granada, a 16th-century colonial city in Nicaragua, the two-year-old boy was in pain and suffering from diarrhea.

Take this, his mother told him, feeding him cooking oil and, later, milk of magnesia, which many Nicaraguans believe will help with stomach ailments. But the liquids only exacerbated his illness.

By Monday, when his diarrhea had not eased, a dazed Wilson lay among the white sheets of a child-sized hospital bed. A tube snaked down his throat to pump the contents of his stomach and help it rest, and an IV protruded from his arm to rehydrate him. Nurses tied his arms and legs to the bed rails to prevent him from pulling at the tubes.

His worried mother, Mariela Garcia Obando, sat outside, speaking with doctors. Good news: Wilson would need to spend another day or two in the hospital, but he would soon be well again.

Fewer children get fatal illness

Today, diarrhea wards in Nicaragua’s hospitals and clinics are frequently full of empty beds, signs of progress the country is making in fighting the disease.

Diarrhea is a common sickness among children worldwide, but only the most extreme cases end up in intensive care like Wilson. In Nicaragua, health workers used to see a lot of cases like his. With limited access to clean water and frequent unsanitary conditions, especially after heavy rains spill sewage into community water supplies, children would become severely ill with diarrhea—and the sickness could often be fatal. Diarrheal disease, so easily preventable and treatable in rich countries, was one of the primary causes of death among children in Nicaragua.

But today, diarrhea wards in Nicaragua’s hospitals and clinics are frequently full of empty beds, signs of progress the country is making in fighting the disease. In 2006, PATH helped Nicaragua introduce a new vaccine against rotavirus, the most common cause of severe childhood diarrhea and a leading killer of young children.

As babies began receiving the vaccine, the number of cases of diarrhea dropped dramatically. Hospitals and health centers treated fewer kids with diarrhea in 2007, and fewer still in 2008. Today the vaccine reaches about 80 percent of the country’s newborn babies.

Parents’ peace of mind

Still from video 'Stories of Hope From Nicaragua'.

The seven-minute Stories of Hope From Nicaragua video tells Wilson's story and the stories of Vilma, who is fighting cervical cancer, and Jonathan, who mentors boys and girls in the Entre Amigos Project.

Wilson just missed the vaccine; it reached Nicaragua a few months after his birth. But PATH is taking other steps to protect more children from diarrhea—by accelerating the development of new vaccines, supporting proven solutions and new technologies like zinc treatment, and helping more communities have access to safe drinking water.

In Nicaragua, doctors say the decrease in severe diarrhea is allowing them to tackle other pressing childhood illnesses.

Now, fewer mothers like Mariela must sit by their child’s hospital bed, waiting for the sickness to ease. Fully recovered, Wilson can return to being a carefree child. And more and more children can be free of severe diarrhea.

Photos (from top): PATH/Teresa Guillien, PATH.