The World Health Organisation’s lack of action on the hepatitis E vaccination is standing in the way of widescale uptake of a prevention tool, according to Médecins Sans Frontières workers.
Hepatitis E is responsible for 56,000 deaths and up to 3000 stillbirths each year in developing countries. In 2011, a recombinant subunit vaccine to prevent infection was registered in China.
While the 2013 WHO-convened working group on hepatitis E recommended the vaccine be considered in an outbreak, workers and patients in the epidemic gripping Africa’s Lake Chad region are unable to access the vaccine.
As well as logistical barriers such as establishing a temperature-controlled supply chain, the WHO has so far not given the vaccine “prequalification”, which acts as an assurance the vaccine is safe, effective and suitable for the target populations and approves it for purchase by WHO agencies.
According agencies working in the affected Niger and Nigeria, getting the vaccine is “out of the question”, The Lancet reported.
“It’s not registered in these countries”, Dr Iza Ciglenecki, operational research coordinator for MSF, said. “It takes many steps to be able to use the vaccine. There needs to be a concentrated effort from the policy makers and the WHO.”
In the meantime, more than 1300 suspected cases have been recorded in Niger by the agency and the number is expected to increase as political instability sees hundreds of thousands fleeing their homes to escape violence and the rainy season continues to spread contaminated water.