Africa needs vaccines

The New York Times editorial
February 6, 2003
To the Editor:

Your Jan. 30 editorial "Vaccine Gap" described a tragedy that our organization witnesses daily: people dying needlessly from diseases for which vaccines exist.

Meningococcal meningitis epidemics, for example, regularly plague sub-Saharan Africa, but the pharmaceutical companies that make effective meningitis vaccines do not come close to producing the 20 million to 50 million doses needed to immunize people at risk in the African "meningitis belt". A vaccine for a new strain of the disease is available to rich travelers but not in sufficient quantities for the millions of Africans at risk.

Affordable or donated vaccines are offered only when a deadly outbreak, like the one threatening Burkina Faso today, is already in progress. Private donors have responded, but wealthy country governments have done virtually nothing to find a long-term solution to this deadly "vaccine gap."

BERNARD PECOUL, M.D. Geneva, Jan. 31, 2003
The writer is director of the Access to Essential Medicines Campaign Médecins Sans Frontières