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WHO Recommends Vaccine Makers Move Forward In Mass Production Of H1N1 Vaccine

“Saying the new H1N1 [swine flu] virus is ‘unstoppable’, the WHO gave drug makers a full go-ahead to manufacture vaccines against the pandemic influenza strain on Monday and said healthcare workers should be the first to get one,” Reuters reports (Fox, 7/14). This, as “Britain, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, the Philippines and Thailand all reported deaths on Monday, while Saudi Arabia shut an international school after 20 students were diagnosed with the A(H1N1) virus,” AFP/Google.com reports (7/13). “As of last week, the WHO had reported nearly 95,000 laboratory-confirmed cases of pandemic flu and 429 deaths,” the Los Angeles Times reports (Maugh, 7/14).

During a briefing with reporters to present findings of the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE), WHO director of the Initiative for Vaccine Research Marie-Paule Kieny said, “The SAGE recognized first that healthcare workers should be immunized in all countries in order to retain a functional health system as the virus evolves.” Reuters writes: “After that, each country should decide who is next in line, based on the virus’s unusual behavior” (7/13).

Vaccine makers continue to test H1N1 vaccines for their safety and efficacy, with hopes of having the results of early clinical trials as early as September, Environmental News Service reports. However, “regulatory authorities who want to have a better handle on results of clinical trials, may take until to the end of the year before they decide whether or not to immunize their populations.” Kieny explained: “Many countries have provisions in their laws that if there is an emergency they can use vaccines with good, yet not complete, data from clinical trials without waiting for full registration of the vaccines” (7/13).

Poverty Will Keep H1N1 Vaccines From Reaching All Countries, WHO Chief Says

Addressing a World Intellectual Property Organization conference WHO Director-General Margaret Chan on Tuesday “warned that poverty will prevent some countries from gaining access to swine flu vaccines,” AFP/Saigon reports. “Manufacturing capacity for influenza vaccines is finite and woefully inadequate for a world of 6.8 billion people, nearly all of whom are susceptible to infection by this entirely new and highly contagious virus,” Chan said. “The lion’s share of these limited supplies will go to wealthy countries. Again we see the advantage of affluence. Again we see access denied by an inability to pay. In the field of health, public policy will remain imperfect as long as access to life-saving interventions is biased in favour of affluence,” she added (7/14).

Reuters reports: “Chan said most drug access problems faced by developing countries could be remedied by tinkering with the existing patent system, which ‘operates as a stimulus for research and development for new products.'” Reuters examines the issue of patents, which Chan called “one of the most difficult, and divisive, issues ever negotiated by WHO.”  Chan also said, “Innovation is needed to keep pace with the emergence of new diseases, including pandemic influenza caused by the new H1N1 virus” (MacInnis/Nebehay, 7/14).

IRIN Examines Growing Number Of H1N1 Cases In South Africa, Flu Preparedness In West Africa

IRIN examines the growing number of H1N1 cases in South Africa. Though there are 75 confirmed cases of H1N1 in the country, Barry Schoub, the executive director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), said “there are probably many more [cases],” during a Johannesburg media briefing Monday.

“The problem in Africa is that the surveillance systems are not as good as in the western world … there will be more cases,” Frew Benson, of South Africa’s National Department of Health, said (7/14). AFP/Google.com writes: “NICD warned that South Africa was a unique case among other countries hit by swine flu, because the nation has the world highest HIV caseload” (7/13).

“Should an outbreak of severe pandemic influenza occur in West Africa, most countries in the region would be armed with plans that look good on paper but are untested and underfunded, according to health experts,” IRIN reports in an article that explores West Africa’s pandemic preparedness. The article also highlighted the WHO’s efforts to help African nations prepare for H1N1. “WHO is supporting six laboratories in Africa – in Algeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, two in Nigeria and South Africa – to test and treat [H1N1] helping countries set up surveillance systems, assisting governments to create national response plans and is sending limited stocks of Tamiflu to treat [H1N1] to countries worldwide,” the news service reports (7/14).