Vaccines Benefit Mainly the Rich, U.N. Finds

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  • Date: Thu, 21 Nov 2002 23:40:36 -0000

UNITED NATIONS - Vaccinations have prevented millions of deaths around
the world but children in wealthy nations are getting the lion's share
of the shots -- and the benefits, the United Nations said on Wednesday. 

While young people in rich countries have access to the latest and
costliest vaccines available, just 50 percent of children in sub-Saharan
Africa are immunized during their first year of life against common
diseases like tuberculosis, measles, tetanus and whooping cough, three
U.N. agencies said in a joint report. 

In poor and isolated parts of some developing nations, vaccines reach
fewer than one in 20 children, said the report by the World Health
Organization, the World Bank and the U.N. Children's Fund UNICEF. 

"Immunization, as powerful and successful as it is, has yet to reach its
enormous potential," the report said. "The right to protection from
preventable diseases is the right of every child and it is well within
our collective capacity to realize that right." 

A quarter of the world's children lack protection from common
preventable diseases, according to the report. Nearly 3 million people
-- 2 million of them children -- die very year from those diseases, it

While vaccines for diseases like meningitis and pneumonia are widely
available in rich nations, children in developing countries are dying
from these same ailments, it found. 

According to the report, rich nations annually provide $1.56 billion in
aid to immunization programs. 

An extra $250 million a year would cover the cost of basic vaccines for
at least another 10 million children, it said. 

A further $100 million would cover the cost of newer vaccines for these
children, including those protecting against hepatitis B and Haemophilus
influenzae type B (Hib). 

Hepatitis B now causes 520,000 deaths a year worldwide while Hib kills
450,000 children in developing countries, the report said. 

Developing nations, which currently spend as little as $6 a year per
person on health including immunizations, also need to increase their
spending, it said. 

The low levels of protection against diseases that ravage primarily the
developing world are also having a significant impact on vaccine
research, the study found. 

Drug companies find they have little incentive to invest in vaccines for
diseases that attack mostly the poor, such as Shigella dysentery,
dengue, Japanese encephalitis, leishmaniasis, schistosomiasis and
cholera, the report said. 

It called on pharmaceutical firms -- with help from wealthy governments
-- to redouble their efforts to develop vaccines against malaria, which
kills about a million people a year, most of them African children, and
tuberculosis, which killed 1.7 million people in 2000, mostly in the
poor nations. 
Source: Reuters 

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