Inflammation and stories on vaccines

Tuberculosis may be the world’s most romanticized disease. La Boheme’s Mimi, Les Miserables’ Fantine, Moulin Rouge’s Satine, among many others, have succumbed to the disease. Despite being a recurring theme in literature and art, the reality of tuberculosis is much uglier.

Tuberculosis, or TB for short, is second only to HIV/AIDS as the leading cause of death from a single infection. It’s symptoms including coughing up sputum or blood, fever, night sweats, weakness and chest pain.

An infection of the lungs, TB is quite insidious. Highly contagious, it can be spread simply by inhaling a few particles from an infected person coughing, spitting or sneezing. It can lie dormant in many individuals, meaning that although they are carriers, they don’t develop the active disease, nor do they transmit it.

However, once infected with the active form of the disease, the symptoms are often mild and so individuals do not immediately seek treatment and often contribute to spreading the infection. People infected with HIV or diabetes are much more likely to get TB because of weakened immune systems. Environmental risk factors including overcrowding and malnutrition make TB a disease of the poor.

TB occurs in almost every country in the world, though mostly in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Both treatable and curable, control of the disease is mainly preventative, done through vaccination. Once contracted, antibiotics can be administered to help those infected, though treatment is often difficult because of the resistant nature of the bacteria.

– Farahnaz Mohammed

Source: WHO
Photo: Los Angeles Times

Effective Public-Private Partnership
A significant challenge to the work of nonprofits and NGOs is finding funds and negotiating with private companies to provide goods and services. The GAVI Alliance, however, does just that. Founded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the GAVI Alliance (formerly the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations) has taken public-private partnerships to a new level in the years since 2000.

The GAVI Alliance focuses on negotiating prices for vaccines against such diseases as yellow fever, measles, Human Papillomavirus (HPV), and diphtheria. The vaccine industry often provides these life-saving vaccines at prices far too high for anyone in the developing world to afford, but with the help of the GAVI Alliance, vaccines can be provided at a significantly lower cost.

This practice of public-private partnership allows monoliths in the vaccine industry to provide large amounts of vaccines at manufacturing cost. The high volume of demand can also minimize production costs that contribute to the significantly higher normal costs in the developed world. And while vaccine prices remain high in the developed world, “in a sense,” journalist Gary Stern writes, “wealthier people [in industrialized countries] are subsidizing the lowered prices for poorer people.”

Lower costs can mean life or death for those in the developing world. For example, a recent agreement between GAVI and two HPV-vaccine providers Merck and Glaxo-Smith-Kline brought the price of a $130-dose vaccine to $4.50 a dose for developing countries. These vaccines against HPV — a major risk factor for cervical cancer — are expected to be administered to over 30 million girls by 2020.

The GAVI Alliance also focuses on strengthening health systems in the host country. Instead of GAVI immunization programs operating independently in the midst of poorly developed healthcare systems, the Alliance also provides funding for health system strengthening (HSS) for health service delivery and the establishment of permanent health centers.

With these two focuses, the GAVI Alliance not only contributes where the need is greatest — providing vaccinations for high-risk populations — but strengthens host-countries’ capacity to help themselves in the future, maximizing its effectiveness through a public-private partnership.

– Naomi Doraisamy

Source: GAVI Alliance
Photo: GAVI Alliance

95% Discount on HPV Vaccines for Girls in Poverty

HPV vaccines costing an average of $130 a dose in the United States will now be offered in poor countries for as low as $4.50 a dose, a monumental step made possible by the generous and focused work of the GAVI Alliance. These vaccines help prevent strains of human papillomavirus, or HPV, that cause almost 75% of cervical cancers.

According to GlaxoSmithKline and Merck, the two pharmaceutical companies offering these deeply slashed prices, more than 85% of cervical cancer deaths occur in the developing world. “We hope that this will help reduce the burden of cervical cancer and positively impact future generations,” said GSK President and General Manager Christophe Weber in a press release. GSK already supplies 80% of its total vaccine volume to developing countries.

The GAVI Alliance, formerly the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, was launched under a generous donation from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 1999; the Alliance works to partner charitable donations with private pharmaceutical companies by negotiating significantly lower vaccine costs for countries in need. This model has allowed over 370 million children to receive immunizations since GAVI’s founding.

In the next few months, GAVI will provide support to countries worldwide by carrying out demonstration programs that raise awareness among the vaccination target group — pre-adolescents — which will allow countries to incorporate the vaccine into their own immunization programs.

– Naomi Doraisamy

Sources: GAVI Alliance, Merck
Photo: Polifaso


A leading proponent of vaccines warned there is a real danger that mistrust of vaccines in wealthy nations, created by “irrational fears” of the lifesaving preventive medicine, could endanger citizens who are already vulnerable if it trickled down into the developing world.

In an article written for the BBC, Dr. Seth Berkley, chief executive officer of the GAVI Alliance, an organization which provides vaccines to children in developing countries, said that while vaccination fears have been around as long as vaccines, it is worrying “when such fears begin to trickle into countries like India, where lives are more vulnerable and the stakes are far higher.”

Measles, a disease that has been largely eradicated in wealthy countries, continues to be a killer in many parts of the world. Berkley said measles kills 164,000 children under five every year, or approximately 450 children every day. Most global health organizations, including the World Health Organization, recommend the MMR vaccine as the best way to protect children against measles.

Berkley wrote in response to recent news reports from the United Kingdom about a measles outbreak that prompted a “catch-up program” to target children ages 10 to 18 whose parents had chosen not to immunize them with the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination because of fears about links to autism. A large outbreak in Wales and smaller outbreaks in other parts of the UK recently brought international attention back to vaccines. Fears of links between immunizations for young children and autism created a scare in some wealthy nations like the US and UK about 20 years ago following research that has since been completely discredited.

-Liza Casabona

Source: BBC,   Guardian

In the wake of the END IT Movement and Human Rights Campaign, more attention is being paid to what  (if any) tangible benefits are derived from the social media form of activism commonly referred to as slacktivism. In an effort to highlight the financial shortcomings of social media activism, UNICEF Sweden has launched a new advertisement criticizing Facebook slacktivism and calling for greater monetary support.

The advertisement (pictured above) shows the ubiquitous UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) logo eclipsed by the sobering phrase, “Like us on Facebook, and we will vaccinate zero children against polio.” The ad goes on to critique the efficacy of Facebook slacktivism is by asking for donations as opposed to “likes” to help purchase polio vaccines for children.

In regards to the advertisement criticizing Facebook slacktivism, UNICEF Sweden Director of Communications Petra Hallebrant remarked that, “We like likes, and social media could be a good first step to get involved, but it cannot stop there.”

UNICEF Sweden’s critique of social media activism marks a turning point in what was previously full-fledged support of outreach via Facebook slacktivism. Is their criticism warranted? Researchers from Georgetown University recently published a study showing that social-media promoters were just likely as non-promoters to donate money, however, the promoters did in fact volunteer 15% more of their time than non-supporters.

The challenges facing NGOs in increasing donations has never been more difficult given the current economic climate and high unemployment figures. However, for those activists who lack the capital necessary for frequent donations, participation in Facebook slacktivism is a means of raising awareness when the requisite finances are lacking.

– Brian Turner

Source: The Atlantic

Nearing the conclusion of the First World War, both Western Europe and the United States were swept up once again in mass casualties. However, this time it was not mustard gas or trench warfare, but rather it was the spread of a highly virulent virus that quickly moved from epidemic to pandemic proportions. Known as the Spanish Influenza, this virus emerged from the prairies of the United States and quickly spread throughout the ravaged cities of war-torn Europe, causing catastrophic levels of death and human suffering. Much has changed in the subsequent century since the Spanish Influenza pandemic, most notably increased coordination between governments in regards to global health concerns and early warning systems of epidemics. And if current trends continue, the end of global pandemics may finally be a reality.

Primarily due to the growth of social media and greater governmental cooperation, local epidemics are being reported to World Health Organization officials at a much quicker rate, allowing for the deployment of huge networks of heath workers aimed at both containing and studying a disease prior to it mutating and becoming a pandemic. Innovative health care workers and research scientists are now utilizing the full potential of social media, and have managed to decrease the detection time of possible pandemics to 23 days, possibly ushering the end of global pandemics.

In regards to the end of global pandemics, TEDMED speaker Dr. Larry Brilliant recounted the eighty countries that came together to end smallpox which lasted for more than two centuries. “Today, we are finding diseases faster than anyone ever imagined,” he comments. “Innovations in early detection, early response and global cooperation can put an end to pandemics.”

A future free of disease-causing viruses capable of inflicting huge losses of life are primarily due to the impressive scientific advances in global health and social media that have occurred over the last decade. Moreover, as early detection times continue to decrease, will this generation be the first one to see the end of global pandemics? If health scientists such as Dr. Brilliant continue to forge ahead with their efforts, it’s more than likely a possibility. Dr. Brilliant comments that “We are closer every day.”

Brian Turner
Source: CNN
Photo: Healthcave

Isle of Man Commits to Eradicating Polio
The Isle of Man’s International Development Committee of the Council of Ministers has announced its intentions to contribute £30,000 annually for the next three years to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Rotary International, partnered with the World Health Organization, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and UNICEF, will utilize the funds to finally rid the world of this preventable disease.

International health organizations have worked diligently to eliminate 99 percent of polio cases; however, they are determined to completely wipe out the disease. Polio is completely preventable with a vaccine, but some people living in poor areas of the world still do not have access to it. Those affected by polio are often young children less than five years old.

Phil Gawne MHK, Chairman of the International Development Committee, is passionate about long-term commitment because polio is a disease that is primarily found in children. The Isle of Man’s donations will go towards providing vaccines for millions of these impoverished children, thus making the end of polio an even more attainable goal. By pledging to give money for three years, Gawne says his country is ensuring that the polio initiative is successful.

Despite the current debates over funding foreign aid programs, Minister Gawne enthusiastic about the role Isle of Man in playing in ending polio. This issue will also be discussed at the Global Vaccine Summit in Abu Dhabi in the next few days. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, along with the Prince of Abu Dhabi, will educate attendees on how to stop the transmission of polio by 2014 and the importance of immunization.

Minister Gawne is proud that his country is able to look at solutions for global programs rather than only those that affect his homeland. According to Gawne, the Isle of Man is “fully committed to playing its part in efforts to create a more sustainable future for all of the world’s citizens.”

– Mary Penn

Source: Isle of Man

Doctors Without Borders and Measles in the Democratic Republic of Congo
There has been a threat from measles in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since 2010. Three months ago, the disease reached epidemic levels. Although much is being done to combat the spread of measles, tens of thousands of people are still affected.

Over the past year, Doctors Without Borders has inoculated nearly half a million children against measles, having to treat nearly 20,000 for the disease itself. Mortality rates can vary from 15 to 25 percent; the manager of a medical team “counted 35 dead in one village…traveling from village to village, we hear just one word: measles.”

Perhaps the most awful thing about measles outbreaks is that the disease itself is extremely treatable. Vaccines can be purchased for a pittance, but the problem in the Democratic Republic of Congo lies in getting the medicine to those who need it. Without modern infrastructure extending navigable roads to many villages, the vaccine cannot always be kept cold in transit. One health center “has only two refrigerators and one broken motorcycle to serve an area half the size of Switzerland.”

Doctors Without Borders put out the alert back in December, hoping that increased attention to the epidemic would bring more donations, and therefore more treatment. Tens of thousands of lives can be saved for barely a few dollars each. The only thing standing between those who are suffering and their good health is the vacillation of foreign donors.

Jake Simon

Source: Doctors Without Borders

Dengue Fever Epidemic in BrazilBrazil has a dengue fever epidemic. Compared to 2012, nearly three times as many Brazilians have been infected with dengue fever in 2013’s first seven weeks, according to health officials. The mosquito-borne disease has spread to over 200,000 people, whereas last year, there were roughly 70,000 reported infections. To make matters worse, the heavy levels of rainfall create beneficial conditions for mosquito breeding, leading experts to believe that the climate will add additional challenges for medical professionals.

This particular strain of dengue first appeared in Brazil in 2011, but dengue itself has been around far longer. However, immunity to one strain does not grant immunity to the three variants, so this relatively new form of the virus has the potential to run rampant.

Fortunately, Brazilian Health Minister Alexandre Padilha explains that fewer people have died as a result of this year’s dengue fever epidemic than last year despite the dramatic rise in infections, which demonstrates that “authorities were following the right strategies…extra training…has clearly paid off.”

Dengue fever presents flu-like symptoms; eradication efforts are centered around both the development of a vaccine, as well as containment tactics for mosquitos. An extremely popular and cost-effective measure for keeping mosquitos at bay is the implementation of mosquito nets: cheap, re-usable material to protect living quarters from the buzzing disease-carriers. Mosquito nets are already popular candidates for foreign aid funds, but more is always better when it comes to saving lives.

Jake Simon

Source: BBC
Photo: EMS Solutions

Avian Flu Outbreak in MexicoGuanajuato, a state in the center of Mexico, is proud of its agricultural sector. However, a recent outbreak of avian flu has forced the Mexican Government to slaughter nearly 500,000 fowl to prevent further damage.

Senasica, Mexico’s National Food Health, Safety, and Quality Service, has vaccinated nearly 200,000 other birds to protect them from infection. This strain of avian flu was called “highly pathogenic” by Mexican health authorities. As a result, intense inspections are being carried out in nearby areas, with experts analyzing over 2,500 recently taken samples from more than 20 farms.

Mexico has seen a few outbreaks of avian flu over the past few years. In March 2012, 22 million hens had to be slaughtered, which resulted in economic instability due to the shortage of some staple goods like chicken and eggs.

This strain of avian flu is called AH7N, a different type of the disease than the one which has received much world attention in recent years (H5N1). Senasica will continue to provide vaccinations, even for “areas with no presence of the virus in an effort to prevent the spread of the disease.”

Jake Simon

Sources: Global Post, Washington Post
Photo: HowStuffWorks