“A huge vaccination campaign to protect 50 million people against meningitis has been launched in seven African countries aiming to stamp out the deadly virus, health officials said on Thursday,” Sapa/AFP/IOL News reports. “The so-called ‘Meningitis Belt’ countries — Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sudan — are to get the jabs to ensure ‘a dramatic impact across the continent,’ said Seth Berkley, managing director of the GAVI Alliance,” according to the news service (10/4). “The seven countries targeted are vulnerable to seasonal severe outbreaks of meningitis with up to 430 million people at risk from the illness, according to a news release issued by the GAVI Alliance,” the U.N. News Centre writes, noting, “The vaccination drive will ensure those at high risk, particularly children and young adults, are vaccinated by the end of December” (10/4).
NPR’s “Morning Edition” host Steve Inskeep on Monday interviewed reporter Jason Beaubien, who is traveling in northern Nigeria, about the country’s increase in polio cases this year. Beaubien discussed myths and fears surrounding polio vaccination in Nigeria, including beliefs that the immunization will sterilize children, but also said “one of the most encouraging things … is that the religious leaders in northern Nigeria are now really united. And they are coming out and saying you should get your children vaccinated. And some of them are being quite harsh as well, saying you have to get your children vaccinated.” NPR notes Nigeria has recorded 90 polio cases this year (10/1).
In a guest post on the Center for Global Health Policy’s “Science Speaks” blog, Margaret McGlynn, president and CEO of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), and William Snow, director of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise, discuss the recent AIDS Vaccine 2012 Conference that was held in Boston. “There has been so much progress in every aspect of HIV prevention research over the last three years that [researchers] had plenty to report,” they write, adding, “[I]t is increasingly clear that defeating HIV will require the combined application of a number of interventions.” They review the results of several studies and comments from several speakers and conclude, “[S]cientific partnership across borders and oceans has long been a hallmark of HIV vaccine development. That, after all, is what brought the field to where it is now: on the verge of a transformation” (Barton, 10/1).
In Pakistan, one of only three nations worldwide where polio remains endemic, “rumors and conspiracy theories about the vaccine … have helped the country maintain its unenviable status,” recording 91 cases of the disease in 2011, Agence France-Presse reports. Most cases of the disease this year have been recorded in the Pashtun tribal areas in the northwest of the country, “where education is limited and deeply conservative values hold sway,” the news service writes, adding, “People in the area were already deeply distrustful of foreign intervention, and suspicions soared even further last year after the CIA used a hepatitis inoculation program as cover to try to find Osama bin Laden.” According to AFP, “[f]ighting between government troops and tribal militias in the northwest, as well the Taliban banning inoculations in protest at U.S. drone strikes, have also hampered efforts to fight the disease.” Health care workers are educating the public to build trust, and UNICEF is recruiting religious leaders to advocate for polio vaccination, the news service notes (Abdul, 9/29).
Political leaders, donor representatives, and medical experts on Thursday met on the sidelines of the 67th U.N. General Assembly session “to celebrate [polio eradication] efforts that have already reduced the incidence of the crippling and potentially fatal disease by 99 percent around the globe,” the U.N. News Centre reports (9/27). “Saying a decisive moment has arrived in the quest to eradicate polio, world leaders vowed … to embrace a new approach that includes long-term funding commitments, greater accountability and a specific focus on the three countries where the crippling disease remains endemic,” the Globe and Mail writes (Picard, 9/27). “[E]verything hinges on stopping polio in a few districts in Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said during an address at the event, the U.N. News Centre adds (9/27). Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, “who is helping spearhead a global campaign to eradicate polio, said Thursday he hopes that by 2015 no child in the world will be paralyzed by the disease and by 2018 polio will be wiped out,” the Associated Press writes (Lederer, 9/27).
The Coca-Cola Company and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria have announced the expansion of a pilot project, called “Project Last Mile,” that uses Coca Cola’s “‘expansive global distribution system and core business expertise’ to help deliver critical medicines to remote parts of the world, beginning in rural Africa,” Pharma Times reports. “The public-private partnership was established in 2010 to help Tanzania’s government-run medicine distribution network, Medical Stores Department, build a more efficient supply chain by using Coca-Cola’s” delivery system model, the news service writes, adding, “The latest phase of the partnership, developed in cooperation with the likes of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Accenture and Yale University, will increase the availability of critical medicines to 75 percent of Tanzania and expand the initiative to Ghana and Mozambique” (Grogan, 9/26).
In a post in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog, Helen Matzger, a program officer in new vaccine delivery at the foundation, writes about outbreaks of cholera in Haiti, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and other areas, and says creating stockpiles of a recently WHO-approved cholera vaccine could help save lives in the future. “The creation of a cholera stockpile is not a panacea; … Still, the cholera vaccine works. Though many of us may never need it, millions of people living in some of the poorest regions of the world face cholera outbreaks all too often. We have a way to alter the course of an outbreak and save lives. Let’s use it,” she concludes (9/19).
Bill Gates Describes How 'Catalytic Philanthropy' Can Help Bring Vaccines, Medicines To Untouched Markets
In an essay adapted for Forbes magazine from a speech given at the Forbes 400 Summit on Philanthropy in June, Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, discusses how “[i]nnovations for the poor suffer from … market limitations” and his idea of “catalytic philanthropy.” Gates writes, “The market is not going to place huge bets on research when there are no buyers for a breakthrough. This explains why we have no vaccine for malaria today, even though a million people die from it every year.” Therefore, “when you come to the end of the innovations that business and government are willing to invest in, you still find a vast, unexplored space of innovation where the returns can be fantastic,” he continues.
“The Chinese drug industry is on the verge of getting the green light to manufacture the Japanese encephalitis vaccine for the developing world, an event that will signal the emergence of a major new player in global vaccines,” BMJ reports. Seth Berkley, chief executive of the GAVI Alliance, “said that by the beginning of next year Chinese drug firms will be ready for World Health Organization representatives to carry out pre-qualification inspections of production of the vaccine,” the journal writes, adding, “Once those inspections are carried out, United Nations agencies and other non-governmental organizations will be able to purchase the vaccine for countries that do not have their own regulatory systems.”
In a recent edition of VOA News’ “Science In The News,” correspondents Bob Doughty and Shirley Griffith report on “the growing use of generic drugs in fighting HIV” and discuss “the search for an effective vaccine against HIV.” They highlight a study of the effectiveness of PEPFAR conducted by researchers from Brown University in Rhode Island, noting lead researcher Kartik Venkatesh “says the high cost of patented antiretroviral drugs had an immediate influence on the program after it began.” They continue, “American officials considered whether to provide patented drugs to HIV-infected patients, both in the United States and overseas,” adding, “Using generic drugs helped cut the cost of treating a person [in a developing country] from about $1,100 a year to about $300 a year in 2005.”