The WHO has reported that the global supply of oral cholera vaccines is set to double after it approved a third producer, helping to address global shortages and expand access in more countries.
Globally, OCV production is low, with demands currently exceeding supply. Sudan and Haiti last year made requests to WHO for supplies of vaccines to conduct pre-emptive vaccination campaigns that could not be filled because of the global shortage.
The vaccine producer, a South Korean company, is the latest oral cholera vaccine (OCV) manufacturer to be approved under the WHO’s pre-qualification programme, which ensures that drugs and vaccines bought by countries and international procurement agencies such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) meet acceptable standards of quality, safety and efficacy.
The addition of an additional pre-qualified vaccine producer is expected to double global supply to 6 million doses for 2016, with the potential for further increased production in the future. This additional capacity will contribute to reversing a vicious cycle of low demand, low production, high price and inequitable distribution, to a virtuous cycle of increased demand, increased production, reduced price and greater equity of access.
Cholera is an acute diarrhoeal disease that can kill within hours if left untreated. There are between 1.4 million and 4.3 million cases a year, and as many as 142 000 deaths. Cholera is endemic in more than 50 countries, but usually only garners international attention during humanitarian emergencies, such as the outbreak among refugees in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, in 1994 that killed tens of thousands. Climate change and El Niño may also be contributing to more frequent cholera outbreaks.
Oral cholera vaccines have been used in mass vaccination campaigns in response to humanitarian emergencies since 1997. But because the disease disproportionately affects poor communities who are often unaware that the vaccines exist, there has historically been little demand for the products.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has also found out that in the twenty-first century, sub-Saharan Africa bears the brunt of global cholera. The region is broadly affected by many cholera cases and outbreaks that can spread across countries.
“The percentage of people who die from reported cholera cases remains higher in Africa than elsewhere. This reflects the lack of access to basic health care because of cholera’s simple treatment of rehydration therapy.
Many African countries face the dual challenges of improving both cholera treatments—access to basic health care, and prevention—improved water and sanitation systems.” CDC States, adding that Improving global access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is a critical step to reducing Africa’s cholera burden.