The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: The Emerging World's Vaccine Pioneers

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Thanks to the efforts of these suppliers and their close partnerships with the GAVI Alliance, multinational vaccine manufacturers, and international donors, more than 100 million children a year - more than ever before - are being immunized. As more suppliers enter the market and stimulate competition with innovative manufacturing techniques, prices will likely drop even further.

Consider the progress that has been made with the lifesaving pentavalent vaccine, which protects a child against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B, and haemophilus influenza type b (Hib) - all in one dose.

When the GAVI Alliance first introduced it in 2001, there was one supplier and the cost was $3.50 per dose. As demand for the vaccine grew, GAVI encouraged other suppliers to enter the market, and the price tumbled. Now there are five suppliers, and Biological E, an Indian pharmaceutical company, announced earlier this year that it would offer the vaccine for just $1.19 per dose.

We have also seen major emerging countries invest in biomedical technology to supply developing countries with new vaccines. India's Department of Biotechnology and Bharat Biotech announced plans this year to release a new vaccine against rotavirus - which kills hundreds of thousands of children - for $1 per dose, significantly cheaper than existing vaccines.

Likewise, a Chinese biotech company won approval in October from the World Health Organization to bring to market an improved vaccine protecting children against Japanese encephalitis.

The same month, Brazil's top biomedical research and development center, Bio-Manguinhos, in partnership with the Gates Foundation, announced plans to produce a combined measles and rubella vaccine.

When I first got involved in global health more than 15 years ago, these kinds of announcements were rare. The vaccine field was dominated by a handful of multinational pharmaceutical companies in rich countries, and the entire sector suffered from a lack of competition.

Today, emerging-country manufacturers produce about 50% of vaccines purchased by United Nations agencies for use in the developing world, up from less than 10% in 1997.

The contributions of emerging-country vaccine producers often complement the work of their counterparts in developed countries. In fact, some of the most innovative ideas have come from their combined efforts.

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