Where is the Antidote for Poor Vaccine Access?

In a seeming paradox, the syringe of disease prevention has yet to reach the most vulnerable.

Global health experts are appealing to the world to address this irony as millions of children continue to be denied access to better health and longer lives by circumstances beyond just their own.

Amid a worldwide rise in immunization rates and cross-border campaigns against deadly diseases, children in the world's poorest nations remain under highest risk of both common and emerging health threats.

"Practicing in my country, we still unfortunately see a lot of illness and death from vaccine-preventable diseases," Dr. Fred Were, chairman of the Kenya Pediatric Association, pointed out. "If this can be reduced we will have more resources and time to focus on other health issues."

A new report released Oct. 21 by the World Health Organization, UNICEF and World Bank shows how the benefits of a booming vaccine industry remain to be heavily tipped toward those who can afford.

The agencies placed infant immunization rates at its highest last year, with an estimated 106 million shots. Immunization demand and development continue to be driven by research on still incurable diseases and the emergence of new life threats, most notably the H1N1 virus.

Vaccine manufacturing has grown into a $17 billion industry over the last eight years, boosted by a market three times larger than it was in 2000.

With just 6 percent of this or $1 billion annually, some 24 million of the world's poorest children may gain immunity against deadly diseases.

The funding gap remains even as nations in most need have already stepped up efforts to curb this shortfall.

Developing countries have come to produce and deliver vaccines to wider markets. Financial partnerships with aid organizations have raised child immunization rates in recent years, while the production of common vaccine in these nations already account for some 86 percent of the global supply.

"We have seen a dramatic turnaround in the availability of vaccines in even the poorest countries," said Graeme Wheeler, managing director of the World Bank Group. "Yet the international community, together with the countries themselves must ensure that new and existing technologies actually reach the most vulnerable populations, especially children."

About the author

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    Tarra Quismundo

    Tarra Quismundo joined Devex Manila as a staff writer in October 2009 after more than six years of working as a reporter for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, a nationwide daily, for which she covered major breaking news in politics, military, police and international affairs. Tarra's Devex News coverage focuses on key Asian donors and top aid officials around the globe.