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How Do Vaccines Reach the Developing World?

I’m Steve Ember with the VOA Special English Development Report.

Several weeks ago, we reported about two vaccines to protect young children against a common cause of intestinal infection. Studies showed the vaccines were effective against the disease rotavirus. Rotavirus is a leading killer of young children in the developing world. More than five hundred thousand die from it each year. Rotavirus can cause severe diarrhea, or watery wastes. The loss of fluids robs them of salts and body fluids.

Last month, the United States Food and Drug Administration approved one of the vaccines, called RotaTeq. Also, an advisory committee suggested that RotaTeq be given to all babies. The committee sets vaccination policy in the United States.

The drug maker Merck and company manufactures RotaTeq. The company says RotaTeq should be given three times to babies between the ages of six and thirty-two weeks. Merck plans to sell a single treatment of the vaccine for about sixty-two dollars. The complete treatment would cost more than one hundred eighty dollars. This would make RotaTeq one of the most costly vaccines ever sold. Critics say many poor people will suffer because the price is too high.

Merck has stated that it will offer RotaTeq to developing countries at reduced prices. However, the company does not expect any action until a study of the vaccine is completed in Africa and Asia. Merck hopes the study will begin by the end of this year.

Getting new drugs and vaccines into developing countries has become an international issue. Several methods have proven effective. For example, developing countries can import less costly copies of the drugs or negotiate reduced prices with drug makers. Also, rich nations, aid groups or other organizations can buy drugs at reduced prices. They can then provide them for free or at a low cost to developing countries.

Drug makers can also agree to let manufacturers in developing counties produce copies. One example is the Swiss-based drug maker Roche. Roche has offered technical help to companies in developing countries for production of the drug Saquinavir. It is used to treat persons infected with the virus that causes the disease AIDS.

Merck says it is investigating a number of methods to see how best to get RotaTeq to children in the developing world.

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss. I’m Steve Ember.