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[LONDON] As donors gather for a major meeting on funding vaccines for the developing world, campaigners are calling for vaccine production to be transferred to Africa to save money and contribute to the continent's broader economic development.

The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), a public-private initiative, will ask on Monday (13 June) for US$3.7 billion in funding over the next four years to immunise 243 million children against a variety of diseases. With the funding, it says, it could save another four million lives in addition to the five million child deaths it has prevented in developing countries in the last ten years.

But vaccines supported by GAVI are produced almost entirely in Europe, North America, Latin America and Asia, said the Council on Health Research for Development (COHRED), based in Switzerland.

"Sustainable development in Africa would be greatly enhanced if local vaccine production and regulation are included in the global targets," COHRED will say in an open letter to the GAVI meeting.

"The transfer of R&D, production, procurement and regulatory capacities will take time but holds the promise of real development well beyond the particular conditions being tackled," Carel IJsselmuiden, COHRED's director told SciDev.Net.

"There is no reason why targets for the international community related to vaccination of children should not include that at least three of the vaccines in which GAVI has interest be produced in Africa in the next five years."

There is only one vaccine producer in Africa approved ('pre-qualified') by the WHO — the Pasteur Institute Dakar, in Senegal, which makes yellow fever vaccine for GAVI.

But South Africa is creating the Biovac Institute and Tunisia is gearing up its capacity to produce vaccines. Other African countries, such as Kenya and Uganda, also have facilities that could, with some support, become quality producers, COHRED said.

Daniel Berman, deputy director of the Access to Medicines Campaign at the aid organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), told SciDev.Net that developing countries were rapidly simplifying manufacturing processes to produce cheaper vaccines.

"We need to leverage this dramatic increase in capacity — they need funds to develop products and access to know-how including intellectual property."

Julia Hill, vaccines policy advisor at MSF, said: "We believe GAVI could be stronger in including low cost producers rather than paying companies who have developed vaccines originally for use in richer countries. [The vaccines] need to be better suited to the countries they are used in."

MSF believes that GAVI financing mechanisms do not pay enough attention to ensuring competition for international drug companies from developing country producers.

"US$1.5 billion has been allocated for subsidy payments to pharmaceutical companies but nothing is done to speed up the development of competitive products," said Hill. For example, she said that suppliers from emerging countries have said they could sell similar pneumococcal vaccine products at US$2 per dose — more than 40 per cent less than GAVI pays.

Ahead of the conference the drug company GlaxoSmithKline said this week it would cut the price of its vaccine for rotavirus by two thirds, to US$2.50 a dose, for poor countries, and other major drugs companies have also announced price cuts for their own products.

Eric Buch, a health advisor to the New Partnership for Africa's Development, said the African Union's Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Plan for Africa already calls for increased capacity.

"Emerging African manufacturers often struggle with the volumes [of drugs] linked to global campaigns, but we think there should be a proportion of volumes that African manufacturers could be able to produce.

"An affirmative process in tendering would also encourage technology transfer and encourage Western manufacturers to partner with Africa to develop this [sector]."

Link to COHRED letter  [374kB]