New Japanese Encephalitis Vaccine ‘A Historic Moment for Global Health’
Monday, April 6, 2015
As I prepare for retirement this month and reflect on my four years as the director of the neglected infectious diseases team here at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the things I am most proud of is to have been part of a global team that has been working to get a new Japanese encephalitis vaccine to the millions of people who need it.
Just over a decade ago, the Gates Foundation supported our grantee, PATH, to turn a little-known vaccine from China into an internationally approved tool to fight Japanese encephalitis, an incurable disease also known as “brain fever”.
Twenty-six countries in Asia and the western Pacific are still affected by mosquitoes carrying the Japanese encephalitis virus. If bitten, infected people can develop inflammation of the brain and experience a sudden onset of headache, high fever, disorientation, coma and convulsions. About 1 in 4 cases are fatal.
This week, Laos launched a nationwide Japanese encephalitis campaign aimed at reaching 1.5 million children. Laos is the first country to introduce the vaccine with the support of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, marking a new milestone in the Japanese encephalitis story.
The project began in 2003 when a team from PATH identified the safe, effective vaccine that has been used in China for more than 20 years and began working with the manufacturer, Chengdu Institute of Biological Products, the World Health Organization and ministries of health to conduct pivotal clinical trials to add to a growing collection of data on the vaccine.
In October 2013, thanks to the efforts of these partners to hasten the timeline for getting this lifesaving tool to the global market, a major milestone was reached: The WHO prequalified the new vaccine, a first for China. The vaccine is illustrative of China’s emerging role as a leader in research and development for health products that can have a significant impact in reducing disease and improving quality of life in developing countries.
- Health Care