CAPE TOWN, 10 April 2002 - The United Nations Children's Fund warned today that the world is experiencing vaccine shortages serious enough to jeopardize immunization programmes for children in both developing and industrialized countries.
UNICEF, whose procurement operation fulfils around 40 percent of the global demand for children's vaccines and is the key supplier of vaccines to the world's poorest countries, is seeking an urgent global response to prevent what it said could become a crisis.
"These shortages affect virtually every category of traditional vaccine given to children in poor countries," said Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF. "Similar shortages are also occurring in the industrialized world."
Production of vaccines generally requires about two years - considerably longer than most other pharmaceuticals. But UNICEF said that funding for developing world immunization efforts is often stipulated for a single year only by donor nations, making it difficult to make long-term commitments to vaccine manufacturers. Without such commitments, manufacturers are in turn hard pressed to guarantee that production lines for inexpensive childhood vaccines will remain available.
The result: Between 1998 and 2001, ten out of 14 vaccine manufacturers have partially or totally stopped production of traditional childhood vaccines, creating shortages. Such vaccines include polio, measles, tetanus, and the combined DTP (diptheria, tetanus and pertussis). Pharmaceutical manufacturers face market pressure to turn over the production lines used for these older, inexpensive vaccines to newer, more profitable products.
"Long-term financial commitments from donors can end this perilous erosion in global production capacity for inexpensive vaccines," Bellamy said. "Without a long-term approach to funding these vaccines, supply will remain at serious risk and deadly childhood diseases may become resurgent."
Bellamy, who is currently Chair of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI), is in Cape Town this week for a major Ministerial conference where over 100 representatives of Health and Finance ministries from Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Middle East will map out strategies to ensure stable financing for vaccines.
The conference, "Financing Vaccination for Every Child," being held from 10-12 April, has been convened to address the need for increased and long-term financing to ensure uninterrupted supplies of traditional vaccines as well as to prepare the ground for new vaccines.
"In addition to multi-year financial commitments, governments must commit to ensuring functioning health systems that can sustain and expand the reach of vaccines," said Bellamy. "Otherwise we risk losing the progress made over the past two decades."
Immunization is one of the greatest success stories of the 20th century, saving the lives of 3 million children every year. Yet it is estimated that another 3 million lives are still lost every year because children were not reached with basic vaccines. "The growing shortage of supply will exacerbate the situation, leaving more children unimmunized and leading to more illness, disability and death," Bellamy warned.
"The world can not stand by while a child is denied the basic right to survival just because her family or government cannot afford the cost of a vaccination," she added. "As an international community, we must act now - and act fast - to remedy the situation."
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For more information:
Mohammed Jalloh, UNICEF Media, New York, 212 326 7516
Heidi Larson (in Capetown) cell:+1 646 207 5179