Kenya on warpath with drugs firm

July 13, 2009 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 13 – The government is furious at an American drugs manufacturer that has allegedly refused to subsidise the cost of a new pneumonia vaccine which was tested on Kenyan children for over ten years.

Public Health Minister Beth Mugo said on Monday that the government could not afford to buy the critical Pneumococcal vaccine because it was highly priced by the company.

“A lot of research into this vaccine was done at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) and it pains me to think that Kenyan children will not be able to access the vaccine,” the Minister said.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates, pneumonia causes more than 20 percent of deaths in children aged under five in Kenya.

“Kenyan children cannot be guinea pigs just to be used to develop the medicine and after that we cannot access it. There are areas that we have to put our foot down because we also have a right to those vaccines,” Mrs Mugo said.

She said a health committee of regional ministers was negotiating with the Latin America Health ministers to allow the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) which provides for Kenya access it at a lower rate.

“It emerged that when GAVI was negotiating for a lower rate, a Latin American organisation had negotiated for a higher price,” she said

“So the Latin America Company insisted that unless GAVI gets a lower price for Africa and other regions it would not be possible and that is the tug-of-war,” she added.

The Minister who was speaking at a ‘Prevention and Care’ health conference said that the government would do its best to go on with the introduction of the vaccine next year despite the cost.

“But it is the coverage I am worried about, whether we will be able to buy enough to cover all the children,” she said.

Mrs Mugo said the manufacturers had wanted to give the country one time dose but this would not be of help.

“We need to come up with some recommendations we can make to the global sector either through WHO or other bodies to see how the cost of vaccines can be reduced because it is a human right for every child to live.” 

Pneumonia is an inflammation of one or both lungs and is often due to a bacterial, viral, fungal or parasitic infection. Symptoms may include fever, chills, cough with sputum production, chest pain and shortness of breath.


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