One lesson that health care workers and medical teams learned from the Ebola crisis in Africa was “that disease prevention should not be held back by lack of money at a critical juncture when a relatively modest, strategic investment could save thousands of lives and billions of dollars further down the line.” That is why a $2 billion global fund has been proposed to create and research vaccines for priority killer diseases such as West Nile Virus, Ebola and MERS.

The point is to invest money up front to have these vaccines ready when outbreaks occur. People could be vaccinated before the outbreak became extremely critical in the case of the recent Ebola crisis. Thousands of lives would be saved, as well millions of dollars. The Ebola case is reported to have cost $8 billion, if not more, in an attempt to control the spread. If vaccines had been readily available at the outbreak, then millions could have been saved from treating and burying victims.

The global fund would pay for the production of the vaccine as well as early and mid-stage testing of the vaccine. Thus, the money would close an existing gap between research done at universities and large-scale clinical trials that take vaccines to the market. In the case of Ebola, several successful vaccines that showed positive signs in animal testings. If the funds had been in place at the beginning of the outbreak, testing could have been moved to initial human field-testing and vaccines would have been available to stop Ebola.

The $2 billion would come from governments, foundations, pharmaceutical industry and any other industries willing to donate. In return, the donors would sit on a panel with scientists to determine which proposals for vaccines to fund.

Any vaccine project is welcome to apply for financial aid, as it costs about $500 million or more to develop one vaccine. This is a chance for vaccines for diseases not targeted by governments, the World Health Organization or the U.N. to get funding for developing cures. This also provides the chance for older vaccines to be updated and become more effective.

Katherine Hewitt

Sources: Reuters, CIDRAP
Photo: Flickr

Most vaccines are heat-sensitive and must remain in a cool, controlled environment. However, this is easier said than done when the vaccines must be transported over a great distance, arriving at a remote location with frequent power outages or no electrical grid at all.

Introducing the direct-drive solar refrigerators: a solar powered fridge that keeps vaccines cool for long periods of time without relying on gas or kerosene. Off-grid refrigerators were introduced in the 1980s in areas without electricity, but recent technology improvements have made them more efficient and accessible than ever before.

The new technology, sponsored by PATH and the World Health Organization, has “direct drive” technology that uses the sun’s energy to freeze water, creating an ice “bank” that the fridge can tap into during the nights and cloudy days.

A direct-drive solar refrigerator could prove to be invaluable to developing countries. Immunizations would be more stable and more accessible, meaning people would get treated faster.

But the fridges are not the simplest of innovations—any given country will need a long-term plan upon making the initial investment for semi-regular maintenance and repair. On top of that, an experienced professional would have to install the fridge to ensure it is done correctly, and then train local technicians to maintain and repair them.

Despite the drawbacks, the direct-drive solar refrigerator is already working. In the Philippines, a solar refrigerator called the Sure Chill is storing vaccines for longer than previously possible, helping rebuild the cold chain infrastructure after the typhoon in 2014. The Sure Chill fridges uses solar and water power and can run without electricity for up to 10 days. These fridges have a big price tag, about $2,600 each, but are already proving to be extremely worthwhile.

Hannah Resnick

Sources: Alternative Energy, Science Dev, WHO
Photo: Flickr

UNICEF In association with the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015, Canadian and U.S. celebrities are participating in the #HighFiveIt campaign for UNICEF with the universal high-five gesture.

According to UNICEF, almost one thousand children die every day worldwide because of the lack of clean water. Conditions are worsened for those without proper nutrition, immunizations, safety and infant health.

The #HighFiveIt campaign raises money to develop strategies to solve these issues as well as implement the plans created. UNICEF will also help to educate the areas that suffer from these problems with techniques that continue to improve upon the tactics that UNICEF will put in place.

In Canada, Karina LeBlanc, the Canadian Women’s National Team goalkeeper and UNICEF ambassador, helped start the campaign by high-fiving Christine Sinclair, the captain of Canada’s team.
UNICEF asks that supporters take part in #HighFiveIt by posting a photo or video of a high-five during a sporting match, tagging five friends in the post and donating to UNICEF.

Among the supporters are many celebrities who have pledged to help save lives of children in poor areas. Disney Channel stars Calum Worthy, Raini Rodriguez and Laura Marano are giving their high-fives for UNICEF, and so are Rico Rodriguez from “Modern Family” and Peter Mooney, Missy Peregrym, Priscilla Faia and Erin Karpluck from “Rookie Blue.”

In addition, several other Canadian and American politicians, athletes and celebrities are pledging to #HighFiveIt to save citizens in poor areas.

UNICEF Canada’s Chief Development Officer, Sharon Avery, said that she is very pleased with the support from these celebrities as their backing will draw a lot of attention to the cause.

“It’s wonderful to see our homegrown talent, along with several American celebrities, taking part in this campaign to save lives,” Avery said. “I’ve seen the impact of UNICEF’s work with children in Honduras and Dominica and am excited to have my passions — soccer and reaching children through UNICEF — come together with #HighFiveIt.”

Though their involvement was very important, celebrities were not the only people taking part in #HighFiveIt. 7,238 UNICEF fans took part in the Guinness World Record for the greatest number of people simultaneously giving a high-five. This event broke the previous record by 2,542 people.

With such a large number of supporters giving high-fives, UNICEF hopes to reach their goals. The organization’s website offers five different life-saving options to donate to, the first being “greatest gift.” If the donator chooses to give to “greatest gift,” the money will be presented to areas that need change the most.

“Children living in conflict and vulnerable situations will benefit from your generosity,” UNICEF said.

By selecting “infant health,” the donator will fund the implementation of baby-friendly hospitals, training of health-care workers and breastfeeding education for mothers. If the supporter chooses “vaccines,” the donation will be used to provide vital vaccinations for tetanus, polio, measles and other life-threatening diseases. By clicking on “nutrition,” the funding will go to efforts to end starvation and malnutrition, and with the selection of “water,” the donation will be used to create water-catchment devices for a better opportunity to provide clean water to developing areas.

Because UNICEF presents the chance of choosing to give directly to causes that the supporter prefers, the organization has created a more personal donation experience. That being said, each dollar the supporter gives to their choice source will be matched by UNICEF, up to two million dollars.

Celebrities and fans of UNICEF can potentially raise more than four million dollars with this promise. To join the cause and help save the lives of people in need, go to or search #HighFiveIt.

Fallon Lineberger

Sources: Look to the Stars, UNICEF 1, UNICEF 2, UNICEF 3
Photo: Newswire

Vaccine-Resistant Polio
On August  18, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences discovered the cause of the particularly deadly 2010 polio outbreak in Congo: a mutated strain that is resistant to vaccination.

Of the 445 infected, almost half of them succumbed to the virus. The outbreak’s high death rate of 47 percent was originally attributed to low immunization coverage but is now thought to be caused by a mutated strain originating from Southeast Asia. The vaccine-resistant polio strain featured a combination of two mutations that both affected the proteins of the strain’s coat, effectively making it more difficult for the antibodies to recognize and stick on the virus.

The research team tested blood samples from Gabon and from German medical students that had been vaccinated. They found that their antibodies were less effective against the Congo variant and that approximately 15 to 29 percent of the students would have been unprotected from the Congo version.

The vaccine used in Congo and in most developing countries is a weaker, dead serum and was not sufficient in providing protection. In contrast, individuals that receive the live, oral polio vaccine are provided with the strongest immunity and are protected from this polio variant.

The spread in the Congo was stopped by the administration of oral vaccine to the entire population of the surrounding areas.

While the disease is only widespread in three countries, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the larger concern is that similar outbreaks will appear as the world is on the cusp of completely eradicating polio. Areas where dominant strains have been eradicated but vaccine coverage is low are at risk of mutated strains in particular.

However, there are a number of promising methods for prevention and the eventual eradication of polio.

By simply increasing vaccine coverage and surveillance, outbreaks can be detected earlier or completely prevented with high vaccine implementation.

In addition, double vaccination has also proved effective in boosting immunity. By combining the oral vaccine with an additional injection of the inactivated virus, the provided immunity is much more effective than the typical application of two drops of the oral vaccine.

On the other hand, there are still many barriers impeding efforts to eliminate polio.

Delays with updating the public database with the most recent poliovirus sequences have been impeding research among the wider scientific community.

Moreover, security issues in high-conflict regions where vaccination is used as a political tool prevent successful vaccination coverage. The effectiveness of the double vaccination approach is especially promising due to its efficiency under limited access. With a brief period of time, the double vaccination method achieves much more than with the oral vaccination method.

While much has been done to almost eradicate polio, there must still be efforts to achieve the complete annihilation of the virus.

– William Ying

Sources: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Nature, Yahoo News, Live Science, BBC
Photo: flickr

mmr vaccine
Measles, mumps and rubella are all viral diseases that can interrupt the development of children and adolescents. Accessing reliable information about the MMR vaccine is the most cost-effective method to increasing its uptake.

The MMR vaccine is recommended in childhood. The three-in-one vaccine is necessary for most children to enter school and can be given as early as 11-15 months, and children should get two doses. In addition, adults born after 1956 or 18 years or older should also receive one dose of the vaccination unless they have already had all three diseases.

The MMR vaccine can be given at the same time as other vaccines. Young children (under 12 years) can get a combination of vaccines known as the MMRV (measles, mumps, rubella and chicken pox).

Upon receiving the vaccination, there are some risks involved, but most people who receive the vaccine do not develop any problems.

Mild issues can occur 6-14 days after receiving the vaccine and can include any of the following: fevers, mild rashes, and swelling of cheek/neck glands. Moderate issues can range from: seizures, stiffness/ pain in joints, temporary low platelet count that leads to a bleeding disorder (1 in every 30,000 doses). Some severe and very rare problems are: serious allergic reaction (1 in every million doses), deafness, permanent brain damage, and long-term seizures/comas. There is no evidence that the vaccine causes childhood autism.

All of these listed risks are small however, in comparison with the risks of contracting measles: severe illness, hospitalization and death. The vaccine itself has brought huge leaps in early childhood disease prevention, providing vaccination to over 500 million people worldwide in over 100 countries. Before the vaccine, mumps was the most common cause of viral meningitis in children and rubella caused terrible damage to unborn babies.

Now, both mumps and rubella are virtually non-existent in children.

The Measles Outbreak

With concern to the current measles outbreak of 2014, two doses are recommended because 2-5 percent of vaccinated people do not respond to their first dose. More than 99 percent of people develop immunity after
the second dose.

Out of the 593 confirmed cases of measles, very few were from people who had been vaccinated twice.

The virus itself can stay in the air for two hours after a person with measles symptoms have left the area and is spread by respiratory droplets. The people infected are contagious four days before and after receiving the rash.

International Outbreak

In the third world countries of the world, measles outbreaks have been spreading more freely, with thousands of cases. In the Philippines, there were 50,000 registered cases and 77 deaths. In Vietnam, there are at least
8,700 cases with 112 deaths in children. In Pakistan, over 30,000 people have caught measles and 290 people have died, with the number increasing daily for children alone. The effect of measles has been spreading due to a lack of proper vaccination, more vulnerable immune systems and misinformation (MMR vaccine may produce autism).

In Africa, the number of measles-related deaths have decreased by 91 percent due to a surge in immunization. However, cases have still been growing, a number well into the thousands.

The potential benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks. Parents should understand that the MMR vaccine is the best way to protect their children from these diseases, especially if traveling to an affected area, or the family resides in an affected area.

Ashley Riley

Sources: About, About 2, CDC, CDC 2
Photo: Medimoon

malaria vaccine
On Thursday July 24, GlaxoSmithKline asked European Medicine’s Authority to approve RTS,S, its malaria resistant vaccine, for global use. According to scientists, it is the first vaccine to show promising signs of protecting children from malaria.

Malaria plagues 3.4 billion people – in other words – half of the world’s population. It is responsible for 800,000 deaths per year – the majority in children under 5 who live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Until now, no vaccine has been effective enough to quell the endemic. In past trials, the effects of the vaccine are ultimately weakened over time to the point where they are virtually futile. RTS,S, however, is showing promising longevity. It is the first malaria vaccine to reach the regulatory approval.

In the most advanced trial to date, 1,500 infants and children from several African countries were given the RTS,S vaccine. Eighteen months after the last injections, researchers re-examined the young vaccinated children. They found that the vaccine nearly halved the number of cases of malaria. For infants, the drug reduced incidences of malaria by a quarter.

In Kenya, for example, malaria is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality. Out of a population of 34 million, 25 million are at risk for the disease. For every 1000 children who received the RTS,S clinical drug, 2000 clinical cases were prevented.

Researchers predict that the vaccine has the ability to provide up to 46 percent protection against malaria when given to children between 5-17 months old. The vaccine, coupled with other preventative measures, including insecticide-treated bed nets and anti-malarial drugs, could have a considerable impact on malaria-plagued populations.

GSK is now developing RTS,S in conjunction with the nonprofit PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative with funding support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The goal of PATH MVI is to accelerate the development of malaria vaccines and catalyze timely access in afflicted countries.

Scientists and researchers are hopeful that the vaccine will be approved as early as 2015. Although the drug is still not 100-proof, a licensed malaria vaccine would have profound results. It could dramatically halt the prevalence of this persistent and stubborn disease. For years scientists have experienced a vicious cycle of trial and error when it comes to the malaria vaccine; time and time, they have been forced to come back to the drawing board. This time they are optimistic, and eager to see the billions of lives that will be saved.

– Samantha Scheetz

Sources: WHO, BBC, Gavi Alliance,
Photo: BBC

Many of the global health successes in the past century can be attributed to the use of vaccines in the global community. While there are many regions of the world still plagued with preventable diseases, scientists are busy trying to create even more vaccines. There have been ideas tossed around for HIV and malaria vaccines, but now scientists are trying to create a vaccine for malnutrition.

As one of the most widespread ailments, nearly one-third of the global population is estimated to have some degree of malnutrition. Among the most afflicted are women and children. In many poor areas, hookworm infection is one of the primary causes of malnutrition. The hookworm take nutrients from the infected patients and, if left untreated, can result in severe malnutrition, stunted development, and hemorrhaging.

There is a strong correlation between poverty and hookworm infection, and the hope is that a vaccine could help alleviate some of the malnutrition causes. The effects of creating a successful vaccine are projected to impact the economy of the region as well. Since malnutrition and the subsequent health problems associated with it limit productivity and stunt the employable population, the vaccine hopes to expand economic and social potential.

One of the hindrances in developing the vaccine, though, is the limited applicability perceived by major pharmaceutical companies. Because the vaccine would be used primarily in many poor, underdeveloped nations, pharmaceutical companies are deterred by the low economic profit opportunities. As the vaccine is being developed, the funding of nonprofit organizations is pushing it through research and development stages.

One of the major supporters of this vaccine is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The difference between the current method of treatment and the proposed passive vaccine is the longer lasting effects. One treatment of the vaccine lasts significantly longer and would cost less in the long term.

While the reality of the vaccine is a while out, the prospect provides a new generation of hope in the medical community for curbing malnutrition.

– Kristin Ronzi

Sources: Times of India, Huffington Post
Photo: Science Line

Mere weeks after the confirmation of the first ten cases of poliomyelitis in Syria, Mother Nature dealt the global health community another powerful blow in the form of Typhoon Haiyan.

Some areas of the Philippines are nearly 95 percent destroyed; Doctors Without Borders staff has described the aftermath as reminiscent of the Haitian earthquake of 2010. Hospitals have been ruined, so aid workers have set up temporary health centers to treat wounds and provide much-needed vaccines to locals and returning residents who chose to flee the oncoming storm.

The World Health Organization and the Philippine Department of Health have spearheaded a campaign to vaccinate children under five against measles or polio outbreaks and provide Vitamin A drops to boost immune system strength. All children under 15 years will then receive care if resources allow.  Hard-hit areas are the campaign’s priority. Immediate needs include the set-up of immunization stations, volunteer deployment and acquisition of all necessary vaccines.

Philippine Secretary of Health Enrique Ona guarantees that since “system is shaken but not broken,” a re-launch of widespread vaccinations should not prove impossible.

Nonetheless, in some regions such as Guiuan (to the east of Samar island,) the “cold chain” required for vaccine delivery and preservation has not yet been implemented. This mechanism involves gas and generator powered refrigerators, cold boxes, ice packs and vaccine-cases for areas without power. In the words of Dr. Johan von Schreeb of Doctors Without Borders, the devastated islands “do not have time to wait.”

This refrigeration conundrum arises with each civil conflict or natural disaster that leaves affected regions without power. Though the cold chain concept is effective and familiar to health care providers, current supply and logistics systems were designed thirty years ago, prior to the development of cold chain equipment. Project Optimize (a task force of the WHO and PATH) and UNICEF’s Cold Chain and Logistics Task Force have identified innovative funding for cold chain equipment as a key opportunity for improvement upon today’s vaccine systems.

In order to achieve the Project’s 2020 goals, cold chain equipment, efficiency and monitoring must improve. Health care managers must be able to access performance figures to make informed purchasing and allocation decisions given the limited time span and resources available in health care emergencies; in other words, the current Philippine situation. If local or national health departments allot too many or too few resources to any single immunization station, lives will be lost (due either to a vaccine shortage or to spoliation of vaccines that should have been administered in other areas). Striking this delicate balance requires widespread cooperation between the public and private sector.

Similarly, manufacturers of equipment must be kept abreast of product performance in the field. The implementation of a feedback loop between manufacturer and user would improve product packaging and design. The Project’s 2013 Action Plan suggests beginning with a redesign of cold boxes to maximize the “refrigerant-to-vaccine” ratio to hold more vaccines and insulate them more efficiently.

Improvements to vaccine logistics that reflect needs expressed explicitly by those on the front lines of vaccine campaigns will ensure that doctors such as von Schreeb have the tools to work their magic when disaster strikes.

– Casey Ernstes

Sources: Doctors Without Borders, PATH, The World Health Organization, The World Health Organization
Photo: BBC

Philanthropist and Microsoft Co-Founder Bill Gates has been focusing much of his attention on developing and delivering a cure for malaria in impoverished areas of the world. Other tech-gurus have also recently turned their eyes into using their abilities to fight a greater cause – delivering Internet connectivity to these remote and poverty-stricken regions. While Gates obviously believes that it is important to help these disconnected nations engage with the developed world, he told the Financial Times that he finds this priority to be, in fact, a “joke.”

“I certainly love the (information technology) thing,” said Gates, “but when we want to improve lives, you’ve got to deal with more basic things like child survival, child nutrition.” And of course, Gates indeed has a good point. Perhaps connecting the world through technology is important, but is it as important as ridding the world of malaria and other diseases? Should the talents of others be wasted on connectivity and not on health and wellness?

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, is one of those who is looking to make the internet available to billions from all corners of the world. He believes that the next wave of connectivity will be driven by mobile broadband networks sending densely compressed data delivered by extremely efficient servers. Furthermore, Google’s Project Loon seeks to bring broadband to developing countries by floating transmitters on balloons.

“Take this malaria vaccine, (this) weird thing that I’m thinking of. Hmm, which is more important, connectivity or malaria vaccine? If you think connectivity is the key thing, that’s great. I don’t,” said Gates.

Gates has not been shy about his disapproval for the priority being placed on such programs. Moreover, he continues to try to help the world in his own way, the way he believes to be truly important. Founded in 1997, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation works to alleviate extreme poverty and health crises in developing countries. It seems that Bill is indeed taking this goal to heart.

– Sonia Aviv

  Sources: RedOrbit, The Huffington Post, Business Insider

With so much attention and publicity surrounding well-known diseases, it is easy to focus all donation and aid efforts only on the diseases on which the public is most informed. However one disease that needs more attention and support is Onchocerciasis, more commonly known as river blindness.

River blindness is a skin and eye disease caused by a parasite and is the second leading cause of blindness. An estimated 37 million people are affected by this disease worldwide and over 90 million people still remain at risk.

River blindness is primarily in West and Central Africa; however, this disease is also prevalent in Latin America and Yemen. The disease is not typically contracted by a single bite, so travelers are not at a high risk to river blindness, just the individuals living in the epidemic areas.

Half a million people are visually impaired by this disease and 270,000 people are already blinded. 99 percent of infected individuals live within 30 countries. River blindness also has a detrimental impact on the economy; an estimated 30 million dollars a year are lost due to this disease.

River blindness is spread through black fly bites; after the initial bite larvae forms and turns in to worms inside the host body.  The larvae creates severe skin itching, inflammation and eventually vision impairment or blindness. This disease also reduces life expectancy by up to 15 years and causes psychological impairment due to the infected person’s becoming isolated.

The African Program for Onchocerciasis Control was created in 1995 to help control the spread of this disease; however, it is hard to control because there is currently no vaccine for river blindness.

There is a drug people suffering from this can take to reduce the larvae, which in turn reduces the itching and can prevent vision impairment, but since it does not kill the adult worms it is not a cure. Antibiotics are also available and are typically given out in six-week doses, but they have not yet been proven effective.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation classify this disease as a neglected infectious disease and their goal is to draw attention to river blindness and find a cure. The Gates Foundation is working to eliminate this disease by developing new treatments.

Currently the Gates Foundation is investing in mosquito control methods to help prevent breakouts, searching for ways to detect the disease early on and supporting efforts made to develop a vaccine.

Olivia Hadreas

Sources: Gates Foundation
Photo: Your Dictionary