Just over a month ago, we celebrated a huge public health win. The World Health Organization (WHO) put its crucial stamp of approval on a lifesaving Japanese encephalitis (JE) vaccine, a milestone achieved largely through the efforts of an innovative cross-sector partnership between PATH and the vaccine’s Chinese manufacturer, Chengdu Institute of Biological Products (CDIBP).
WHO’s approval, called prequalification, means leaders of country immunization programs and groups that fund vaccine purchases can be confident that the vaccine meets international quality and safety standards, and it sets the stage for purchase and use of the vaccine for populations most at risk of this deadly disease.
This week, we have another cause for celebration. As part of its vaccine investment strategy, the GAVI Alliance announced funding to bring widespread JE immunization campaigns to poor countries that otherwise can’t afford the vaccine. With GAVI’s support, PATH’s continued engagement, and CDIBP’s commitment to ensuring a supply of high-quality vaccine, millions of children will be protected.
Progress toward preventing JE
Also known as brain fever, JE is a devastating disease that each year kills roughly 15,000 people, most of them children, and leaves thousands more with severe lifelong disabilities. Found mainly in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific, the disease affects not only those who fall sick, but also their families, many of whom lack the resources to care for disabilities. There is no treatment or cure for JE. Vaccination is the only viable form of prevention.
Being in Cambodia for the GAVI Alliance’s board meeting this week has given me a chance to reflect on the tremendous progress PATH and our partners have made in combating JE and bringing global attention to this long-neglected disease. We worked with Cambodia to better understand the burden of JE disease in the country, prioritize it, and focus on prevention efforts in regions where children are most at risk. Even before WHO’s approval, Cambodia and 11 other countries elected to forge ahead with protecting their children by introducing JE vaccine in high-risk areas.
But there is still more work to do.
Bringing vaccine to the people
WHO’s prequalification of CDIBP’s JE vaccine has established China as a global vaccine producer and key contributor to tackling major public health issues. The GAVI Alliance board’s decision to incorporate the JE vaccine into its funding portfolio helps bring these historical achievements to families living with the threat of JE. At PATH, we’ll remain focused on helping countries adopt, introduce, and scale up JE vaccination efforts.
While our recent achievements are notable, the true celebration will come when all at-risk children are protected, and families no longer live in fear of losing their children to this vaccine-preventable disease. With JE finally getting the attention it deserves, I’m confident this day is within reach.