Among the many differences that exist between the West and the Third World there is a paradoxical one. Experts call “immunization gap” that is, the lack of medicines and the huge difference in costs for a single dose of vaccine, which for the people of the countries in the developing world is a real slap in the face to the sacred right to health.
According to a 2015 report by Doctors Without Borders, the vaccination of an African child costs 68 times more than the same prophylaxis for a European child. An unjustifiable gap, which inexplicably strikes those who need an effective hedge against terrible and deadly diseases the most.
It is precisely the lack of doses of medical products and the high costs of medicines to threaten Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, two countries where since December has been spreading a serious and uncontrollable epidemic of yellow fever, a disease transmitted by mosquitoes, which kills in 15%-50% of infection cases. A true medical emergency and if we do not stop it in time, it may not only kill millions of Africans, but even become global, transforming rapidly into a pandemic.
To deal with all this, the World Health Organization has decided to undertake one of the biggest vaccination campaign ever seen: the goal is to vaccinate 14 million people, in more than 8000 different places to reach, employing 41,000 workers including doctors and nurses. It is an almost impossible goal, even more difficult to achieve because of the logistical difficulties and serious shortcomings.
Congo does not experience only vaccines shortage, but also lack of syringes to inject the vaccine to the population. It is a ridiculous situation and it threatens to derail the efforts of the operators who are already working in quite unfavorable conditions. Besides, traders worry that there is also a so-called “cold chain”, a protocol that establishes that vaccines have to be always kept at a constant cold temperature. To do this, the team that will work in the campaign will have to renew 4000 ice packs and refrigerated containers per day in different locations of the countries involved.
What scares of most experts is shortage of doses of vaccine worldwide: “protecting people as possible is the core of the strategy – said WHO coordinator William Perea about the vaccination campaign -. And with a limited stock we have to use these vaccines very carefully. ” To get a batch of vaccines, it takes about six months and currently there are only 7 million doses in the world, an insufficient amount to cover this epidemic while ensuring a reserve” for all other cases that may occur elsewhere in the world.
To overcome this problem, a “reduced dose” will be used, that is, one fifth of the normal one, an amount which – according to experts – still provides protection for at least one year. A choice that is dictated by desire not to deplete existing stocks entirely on the one hand, and by the need to curb the advancing epidemic as quickly as possible on the other.
What worries the operators is also the aggressiveness of the disease: according to WHO, from the beginning of the epidemic, yellow fever has already killed about 500 people and devastated dozens of villages along the border between Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Hence, according to the experts, vaccination remains the only weapon able to eradicate the disease once and for all.
The World Health Organization will not be the only one to implement such a major vaccination campaign. Fighting at his side there will as many as 56 partners, from Save the Children to the Red Cross, to the Centers for Disease Control Americans, to Doctors Without Borders. “Considering the availability of a safe and effective vaccine – explains Axelle Ronsse, coordinator at Doctors Without Borders – this campaign is a key step to curb the spread of yellow fever, but in the coming months epidemiological surveillance will be crucial.”
However, in spite of the efforts of WHO and the activities in the field of volunteers and NGOs, given the supranational dimension of the contagion, it is clear that closer collaboration between pharmaceutical companies and national governments is necessary. Together, they must bring about cost reduction in the distribution of vaccines, thus guaranteeing the inalienable right to health through an effective accessibility to treatments.