Wed | Feb 21, 2024

African countries lack ‘immediate access’ to cholera vaccine

Published:Thursday | February 2, 2023 | 9:00 AM
Health workers treat cholera patients at the Bwaila Hospital in Lilongwe central Malawi on January 11, 2023. Malawi’s cholera outbreak has now claimed more than 1,000 lives by Tuesday, January 25, 2023, according to the country’s health minister, who warned that some cultural beliefs and hostility towards health workers are slowing down response efforts. (AP Photo/Thoko Chikondi, File)

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Africa's public health agency says countries with deadly cholera outbreaks on the continent have no “immediate access” to vaccines amid a global supply shortage.

The acting director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ahmed Ogwell, told journalists on Thursday that the agency is working with the World Health Organization and the vaccine alliance GAVI on ways to obtain more doses.

The Africa CDC is also working with two local manufacturers to explore if their facilities can be repurposed to manufacture cholera vaccines, Ogwell said. He didn't say which ones.

WHO and its partners recommended in October that countries temporarily switch to using a single dose of the cholera vaccine instead of two because of the supply shortage as outbreaks of the water-borne disease surge globally.

They said one dose of vaccine has proven effective in stopping outbreaks “even though evidence on the exact duration of protection is limited” and appears to be lower in children.

WHO noted that Haiti and Syria also are trying to contain large outbreaks. WHO and partner agencies manage a stockpile of cholera vaccines that are dispensed free to countries that need them.

Malawi in southern Africa especially is struggling with a cholera outbreak. The country has recorded 3,577 new cases including 111 deaths in the past week, Ogwell said. They make up the bulk of the new cholera cases on the continent.

Since the beginning of 2023, there have been 27,300 new cases of cholera including 687 deaths in five African countries, Ogwell said.

The WHO has said climate change could make cholera epidemics more common, as the bacteria that causes the disease can reproduce more quickly in warmer water.

Follow The Gleaner on Twitter and Instagram @JamaicaGleaner and on Facebook @GleanerJamaica. Send us a message on WhatsApp at 1-876-499-0169 or email us at onlinefeedback@gleanerjm.com or editors@gleanerjm.com.