Ten out of 14 vaccine manufacturers have partially or totally stopped production of traditional childhood vaccines, creating shortages serious enough to jeopardise immunisation programmes in both developing and industrialised countries.
This is according to the United National Children’s Fund (Unicef), whose procurement operation fulfills around 40 percent of the global demand for children’s vaccines and is the key supplier to the world’s poorest countries.
The dire situation was revealed at the International Vaccination Conference being held in Cape Town. The conference, funded by GlaxoSmithKline, is aiming to get health and finance ministers from Africa, Asia and Latin America around the same table.
About 3-million children die each year from vaccine-preventable deaths, most of them being in sub-Saharan Africa.
“That’s 8 220 deaths per day. I have never been able to visualise that until September 11 and that was 3 000 deaths,” said Professor William Foege, senior health advisor to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The Gates foundation has given more than U$2-billion towards immunization globally.
Steve Jarrett of Unicef said vaccine supply was central, but that there had been a dramatic decrease in the availability of low cost vaccines for lower income countries.
“We basically buy all vaccines offered to us and if there is sudden increase in demand there will definitely be a lack of availability,” Jarrett said.
Dr Luis Sambo, Director for Programme Management at the World Health Organisation, said vaccination was one of the most cost-effective public health interventions.
He said Africa had an unacceptably high burden of measles while cost effective strategies had been available for the past 10 years.
“Increased political will and effective financing will be needed especially in developing countries, to ensure vaccination for every child in the world,” Sambo said.
Addressing delegates during the morning session, South African finance minister Trevor Manuel said improved health, in turn, would contribute to the improved prospects for economic development.
“Healthy children are better able to reap the fruits of better schooling and a more educated workforce that can contribute to achieving economic development goals,” Manuel said.
He said the tragedy was that despite the low cost and cost effectiveness of vaccinations, and despite the fact that no argument ‘ medical, sociological or political, could be offered against it, too many countries were too poor to provide this service.
He said countries need to maximize the advantages of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), to ensure bulk buying and improved administration for the roll-out.
The conference will end with a “Call to Action” by government ministers with recommendations to ensure that financing vaccines is not just a once off, but is sustainable over time to secure the right of all children to be protected from preventable diseases on an on-going basis.
The event is held under the patronage of the universities of Cape Town, Antwerp (Belgium) and Harvard (USA).