The World Health Organization reports more life-saving cholera vaccine soon will be available to help nations struggling to contain outbreaks of the killer disease.
Two manufacturers currently produce three million doses of cholera vaccine. The WHO says the global supply is set to double this year after it approved a third company to produce the vaccine.
The producer, a South Korean company called EuBiologics, is the latest oral cholera vaccine manufacturer to be approved under the WHO’s pre-qualification program, which ensures the quality, safety and efficacy of the product.
Dr. Stephen Martin, an expert in WHO's Emergency Vaccines and Stockpiles Division, calls it good news. He says the doubling of the global stockpile of oral cholera vaccines to six million doses will help address chronic shortages.
He says last year, WHO had more demand for the product than it could meet. As a consequence, he says the agency had to turn down requests from Sudan and Haiti for the vaccine.
“We have used it largely in outbreaks in humanitarian crises. But, this additional producer will permit us to perhaps go even further and to start using the vaccine in endemic situations, which is predictable. Time and time again, in many countries, you can see the rainy season starting and the cholera cases increasing," said Martin.
Cholera is an acute diarrheal disease that can kill within hours if left untreated. Globally, an estimated 1.5 billion people are at risk of cholera. The WHO reports there are up to 4.3 million cases a year, with as many as 142,000 deaths. The disease is endemic in more than 50 countries.
Martin says a cholera vaccination campaign is due to begin in Haiti at the end of the month. Unfortunately, he adds, it will be a reduced campaign as the WHO only will be able to supply 240,000 of the 800,000 doses requested by the government.
He says WHO expects more manufacturers will come forward to produce the vaccine. Increased production, he notes, will lead to lower prices. He says he expects the current price of $1.85 a dose will go down to $1.45 a dose.
He expects the demand for the vaccine will be particularly high in Africa this year. Martin says climate change and the El Nino weather phenomenon are contributing to more frequent outbreaks of cholera and it is likely behind recent outbreaks seen in places, such as Tanzania, Malawi, and Kenya.