The World Health Organization has approved a third producer for oral cholera vaccines and the global supply of these vaccines is set to double. This will also aid in addressing global shortages and expand access in more countries.
Cholera is endemic in more than 50 countries, but usually attracts 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.
The latest oral cholera vaccine (OCV) manufacturer to be approved under the WHO s pre-qualification programme is a South Korean company. It aims to ensure that acceptable standards of safety, quality and efficiency are met by drugs and vaccines bought by countries and international procurement agencies such as the United Nations Children s Fund (UNICEF).
This step will increase the global supply of cholera vaccine to six million doses for this year. This will also ensure further increased production in the future. This will also change the cycle of a 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.
If cholera is left untreated, it can kill within hours as it is an acute diarrhea disease. Every year there are 1.4 million and 4.3 million cases and about 142 000 people die of cholera. Climate change and El Ni o may also be contributing to more frequent cholera outbreaks.
Due to the disease disproportionately affects poor communities, who are often unaware that the vaccines exist, there has historically been little demand for the products. Vaccination requires 2 doses per person, meaning the stockpile is sufficient to cover 1 million people.
Access to OCV has been further improved by a commitment of US$115 million over 5 years from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to expand availability and the use of vaccine in countries with endemic cholera. Since the OCV stockpile was created more vaccines have been distributed and used than in the previous 15 years.
The creation of the stockpile and pre-qualification of a new vaccine producer highlights the success of an international joint effort through public-private partnership, including governments, non-profit organizations, manufacturers, donors and research organizations.