Geneva/Washington, 11 May 2010 — In a new report published today, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and Oxfam International warn that the global approach to ensure access to life-saving vaccines for children in the poorest countries, is hampered by high prices and is now facing an acute funding crisis.
“The report, entitled Giving Developing Countries the Best Shot, shows how because of the fundamental nature of the vaccine market, it still takes years for expensive new vaccines developed for wealthy countries to reach children across the developing world, and that products emerging from the research pipeline are often insufficiently adapted to developing country needs and conditions,” said Dr. Tido von Schoen-Angerer, Director of the MSF Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines.
The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), which leads international efforts to boost immunisation rates in developing countries, has reported considerable success in expanding access to vaccines against Hib and Hepatitis B, two diseases that cause considerable mortality. But the organisation is now facing an acute cash crisis due to high prices for new vaccines and stagnating donor resources. Without an additional US$2.4 billion in donor contributions, GAVI will have to make significant cut-backs that will reduce access to vaccines in poor countries.
GAVI’s attempts to speed up the introduction of pneumococcal conjugate vaccines (PCV) are an illustration of the hurdles faced by the organisation. For a number of years in wealthy countries, PCV has prevented hundreds of thousands of cases of pneumonia, meningitis and other serious infections. It has also generated billions of dollars in revenue for multinational drug companies. But the joint efforts of GAVI and donor countries to improve uptake of these blockbuster products in resource-poor settings have stumbled.
Despite repeated announcements heralding the impending roll-out of PCV across developing countries, PCV will remain out of reach for most children due to problems with supply and a lack of funds. Kenya is the only GAVI-eligible country that will receive the newer version of this life-saving vaccine in 2010 and the cost will be US$21 per child. This is an unacceptably high price for donors and developing countries to bear.
“The newest vaccines continue to be produced by only a handful of multinational pharmaceutical companies whose oligopoly status allows them to charge high prices,” said Rohit Malpani, senior policy advisor at Oxfam. “Despite GAVI’s negotiating power, the price of new vaccines is too high. The Best Shot report highlights novel ways of developing vaccines to improve children’s access to them, increasing their chances of survival.”
One of these novel ways is illustrated by the collaboration between the World Health Organization, the U.S. non-profit PATH and the Serum Institute of India, which has resulted in a meningitis vaccine that will cost no more than $0.50 per dose. This vaccine, which is tailored to the needs of countries in the so called “Meningitis Belt” in sub-Saharan Africa, should be available by the end of the year.
MSF and Oxfam are calling for changing the current system so that donor funds incentivise development of adapted vaccines and ensure affordable prices.
In addition to these reforms, routine immunisation needs to be strengthened. In developing countries, two million children die every year because of the failure to vaccinate children with existing vaccines.
“Again during the past two years MSF has responded to major outbreaks of measles and meningitis,” said Dr. Tido von Schoen-Angerer, Director of the MSF Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. “This is because an increasing number of children are missing their routine measles vaccination and because there is not yet a long-duration meningitis vaccine accessible. The overall goal needs to be to increase rates of routine immunisation and to ensure access to newer vaccines.”
In 2009, MSF treated over 50,000 cases and vaccinated more than 7.4 million people against meningitis. In 2008, the organisation vaccinated more than 1.9 million children in response to measles outbreaks and treated more than 32,000 measles cases.
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