The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Friday that supply for life-saving oral cholera vaccine will double this year.
Two manufacturers currently supply 3 million doses of the vaccine but the U.N. agency said that supply should increase to 6 million doses this year and will have further increases later following the approval of a new vaccine producer.
South Korean company EuBiologics is the latest to get WHO's approval under the agency's prequalification program that helps guarantee the safety, quality and efficacy of drugs and vaccines. The additional capacity is aimed at helping nations combat outbreaks of the deadly disease.
"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," the WHO said in a statement.
Stephen Martin, from WHO's Emergency Vaccines and Stockpiles Division, hailed this development as good news. Martin said that WHO had more demand than it could meet last year resulting in the agency turning down requests from Haiti and Sudan for the vaccine. He said that doubling the vaccine's global stockpile can help address chronic shortages.
"We have used it largely in outbreaks in humanitarian crises. But, this additional producer will permit us to perhaps go even further and to start using the vaccine in endemic situations, which is predictable," Martin said. "Time and time again, in many countries, you can see the rainy season starting and the cholera cases increasing,"
Cholera is an acute diarrheal illness that can kill those infected within hours if it is left untreated. The illness is caused by infection of the Vibrio cholerae bacterium in the intestines and is endemic in more than 50 countries.
Between 1.4 million and 4.3 million cases of cholera is reported annually, 142,000 of these result in death. While some do not exhibit symptoms of infection, about one in ten cholera patients will experience severe disease marked by vomiting, leg cramps and watery diarrhea, which could result in dehydration and shock.
Infection occurs when a person eats food or drinks water contaminated with the cholera bacterium. The source of contamination during an epidemic is often feces of an infected person that gets into water and food. Climate change and El Niño, which cause flooding and droughts are believed to contribute to more frequent occurrences of cholera outbreaks.
To avoid infection, people who visit areas where cholera occurs are urged to drink only bottled, chemically treated or boiled water. Food needs to be packaged or eaten freshly cooked and hot.
Eating raw and undercooked meats, seafood and unpeeled vegetables and fruits is discouraged. Health experts also recommend frequent washing of hands with soap and clean water or use of alcohol-based hand cleaner.
Photo: Susana Secretariat | Flickr