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Poorer countries 'need flu vaccine'

13th July 2009

Developing countries are in need of an extensive vaccination programme against seasonal influenza, according to international influenza experts.

africainject1If pharmaceutical companies boost production to include poorer countries, this will also have the effect of boosting demand, so that there is plenty of manufacturing capacity in the event of a pandemic.

Influenza scientists and politicians held a meeting in Italy last week to discuss the current H1N1 swine flu pandemic.

They heard that many governments in developing countries remain unconvinced that flu is as important a threat to public health as some of the other challenges they face, like malaria, HIV and tuberculosis.

But Abdullah Brooks of the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Bangladesh warned that a third of pneumonia deaths worldwide are caused by influenza viruses.

Two million children under five years of age die every year worldwide from pneumonia, according to the United Nations children's agency UNICEF.

The meeting in Siena, Italy, was called to allow scientists and healthcare policy-makers to assess the gaps in their knowledge about the current pandemic.

If vaccine programmes in poorer countries were to receive a boost, developed countries, the UN and health charities would be likely to foot the bill.

The meeting also heard calls for developing nation governments to carry out a full assessment of the full impact of influenza infections in children, and of the potential effects of a vaccination programme.

Besides the public health benefits of vaccination programmes, such a move could also make it easier for pharmaceutical companies to respond to global changes in demand for vaccine.

Novartis vaccine research chief Rino Rappuoli told the meeting that his company had been planning to close some vaccine manufacturing plants because they were running at a loss.

Vaccination programmes in poorer countries could boost demand, keeping plants open which could be used to boost supplies in the event of a pandemic strain of influenza.

 

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