Epidemics and pandemics are an ever-increasing new normal, yet vaccines for many infectious diseases are either in short supply or unavailable for many middle- and low-income countries. As cholera sweeps through Malawi and other African nations, the need has never been more pressing for increased efforts to ensure equitable access to lifesaving medicines.
As of February 18, Malawi has recorded nearly 45,000 cholera cases and close to 1,450 deaths from an outbreak that started in March 2022, the deadliest in its history. Malawi has conducted two oral cholera vaccination campaigns in 21 affected districts; however, unvaccinated districts are still at risk. Worldwide vaccine supplies are scarce as cholera has been surging globally, prompting the World Health Organization to suspend the standard two-dose strategy last October. Nine other African nations have also reported cases.
“We’re glad to see the Government of Malawi launch the ‘End Cholera’ campaign to reduce the fatality rate and increase prevention, communication, and social mobilization – more must be done to ensure vaccines are available for all who need them,” said AHF Malawi Country Program Manager Triza Hara. “We urge vaccine makers to make their patents available to increase access for low- and middle-income countries, and we’re calling on African leaders to continue working to implement policies and practices that allow us to produce vaccines on the continent.”
The WHO reported in mid-December that the global cholera vaccine stockpile was “currently empty or extremely low,” according to Reuters. Meanwhile, at least 17 other countries have reported outbreaks, including Haiti, with more than 20,000 cases reported from September 2022 through January 2023 after having been cholera-free for the prior three years.
“While we can’t fully stop cholera until countries have improved water, sanitation, and hygiene, there must be a concerted global effort as part of a Global Public Health Convention to ensure critical vaccines, like the one for cholera, are stockpiled worldwide to ensure a more proactive response,” said Dr. Penninah Iutung, AHF Africa Bureau Chief. “It is unacceptable in the 21st century that a completely preventable disease is still killing thousands of people worldwide. Governments of rich nations should mandate that pharmaceutical companies share their know-how and technology to increase vaccine access and the means of local and regional production. That’s the only way we’ll vaccinate our world.”
AHF has worked in Malawi since 2017 and currently provides HIV/AIDS care and treatment to over 42,600 registered patients. The Vaccinate Our World initiative was launched by AHF during the COVID-19 pandemic to address the glaring discrepancies in vaccine access between rich and lower-income countries. The VOW campaign has since expanded to encompass vaccine equity more broadly. Learn more at VaccinateOurWorld.org.