Thursday, May 5, 2016

Myanmar - MSF requests price cut for pneumonia vaccine

Aid organisation Médecins Sans Frontières is demanding that drug companies cut the cost of pneumonia vaccines for poor children worldwide, a move that could greatly affect Myanmar.

MSF has presented a petition with nearly 400,000 signatures to pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline asking that they drop the vaccine cost to US$5 per child in all developing countries and for humanitarian organisations.

Pneumonia is the leading cause of vaccine-preventable deaths in Myanmar. Recent UNICEF data shows pneumonia accounted for 16 percent of under-five deaths in 2015, with 7516 losing their lives because of the disease.

Myanmar is due to introduce a new pneumococcal vaccine for pneumonia in the coming months. The $20 million project, co-financed by the government and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), is slated to run from 2016 to 2020.

A spokesperson for GAVI said they will be purchasing these vaccines from GSK, with each course costing around $9. But if MSF’s cost-slashing request is successful, savings could amount to around $10 million.

Dr Greg Elder, medical coordinator at MSF’s Access Campaign said, “After combined sales of more than $30 billion for the pneumonia vaccine alone, we think it’s pretty safe to say that Pfizer and GSK can afford to lower the price.”

Dr Andrea Incerti of MSF Myanmar said that the pneumonia vaccine, even at the lowest global price, is still “much more expensive” than almost any other vaccine.

“There are many tragedies that cost children’s lives that we can’t do anything about, but today no child should be dying of a vaccine preventable disease like pneumonia,” Dr Incerti said.

Lowering vaccine costs is a move supported by multiple health actors that operate in Myanmar including many NGOs and United Nations agencies.

“Lowering vaccine costs is crucial to increase access … [It] will enable the most marginalised and vulnerable children to be protected from vaccine-preventable diseases, thus reducing deaths among children under-five,” said Maharajan Muthu, Maternal and Child Health Specialist at UNICEF Myanmar.

But drug companies disagree with the suggested ease of lowering the fee. In a statement, drug company GSK said at current production “we are able to just cover our costs and maintain our ability to supply the vaccine to these countries in the long-term”.

The organisation said it was committed to “looking at ways to reduce production costs”.

MSF estimates that pneumonia kills almost 1 million children around the world annually.

Last year, 193 governments at the World Health Assembly unanimously passed a resolution demanding more affordable vaccines and increased transparency around vaccine prices.

Several countries indicated at the event that they are not able to introduce the pneumonia vaccine because of its high price.

By Nick Baker

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