Brazil recently announced plans to create a low-cost measles and rubella vaccine, specifically for export to developing countries. The Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Brazil’s top medical research facility, is partnering with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to create, produce, and export the vaccine.
Measles and rubella, viruses that primarily affect children, have been eradicated in most developed countries. Brazil, for example, eradicated measles in 2000 and rubella in 2009. These highly contagious viruses spread through human contact (sneezing and coughing) and no anti-viral cure exists for either disease, so prevention through vaccination is essential. In 1980, measles alone caused 2.6 million deaths each year. However, the development of effective vaccines and widespread vaccination campaigns has greatly reduced the prevalence of these diseases around the world. Between 2000 and 2011, there was a 71% decrease in measles cases globally due to effective vaccination. But measles still kills 158,000 people every year, mostly children in low-income countries.
Bio-Manguinhos, the unit of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation that will produce the new vaccine, already produces an effective combination vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella. However, many developing countries cannot afford the existing vaccine because of its high cost. For example, Pakistan experienced a measles epidemic earlier this year- there were 239 measles-related deaths in the country from January to April 2013. Dr. Tanvir Ahmed, the Director-General of Health Services for Punjab province, attributes the recent outbreak to low vaccination coverage: “In the districts there are even pockets where there is no vaccination coverage. The average for Punjab is 58%.”
Brazil hopes to produce 30 million doses of the new vaccine per year by 2017. This measles and rubella vaccine will be the only produced by Brazil solely for export and will cost $0.54 per dose. Right now, India produces only similar vaccines for developing countries.
This new development in global health showcases the solutions cross-sector, international partnerships can produce. The Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil received a $1 million grant from the Gates Foundation; in addition, the Brazilian Health Ministry has pledged $727 million to construct a new pharmaceutical plant to facilitate production. The new vaccine will be sold to low-income, developing countries, primarily in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The international community has committed to improving child health around the world; the 4th Millenium Development Goal aims to reduce the 1990 under-5 mortality rate by two-third by 2015 and the World Health Assembly committed in 2010 to reducing deaths from measles (2000 levels) by 95% by 2015. This new vaccine will, hopefully, help us to meet these goals through cost-effective strategies, like vaccinations.