Communities across Asia are celebrating significant progress in the fight against Japanese encephalitis (JE). A lifesaving vaccine to protect their children from the incurable and deadly disease has been used across countries where JE poses the greatest threat.
Not long ago, the situation was dire. In southern India, a young boy, Maheesh, struggled to identify his own family members after a JE infection left him with severe brain damage. The family had difficulty paying the medical bills, often skipping meals to afford expensive, and ultimately futile, treatments.
“There is nothing more I can do. I have left it to God,” said Maheesh’s father, Navagajood.
Families like Maheesh’s don’t have to suffer any more as part of a PATH-led, 15-year collaborative effort to turn a little-known vaccine from China into an internationally approved tool to fight JE. Long considered a "neglected tropical disease," the mosquito-borne virus claims about 20,000 lives a year and leaves many more with permanent disabilities such as paralysis or the inability to speak. In India, and other JE-endemic countries, partnerships played a key role in immunizing nearly 300 million children.
“ Forging effective partnerships makes it possible to bring affordable lifesaving vaccines to families around the world. ”
The road to vaccinating these children started in 2003, when PATH began suspecting that JE was a big problem that needed global attention. We began by working with private-sector partners to develop tests to diagnose the disease, and worked with the World Health Organization (WHO) and country governments to set up data and surveillance systems to track JE cases and outbreaks. These early efforts allowed countries to understand the extent of JE, prioritize their fight against it, and focus prevention efforts on the regions and people most needing protection.
In search of a safe, affordable vaccine, PATH discovered that one JE-affected country already had a solution. China had vaccinated more than 200 million children with a locally-made vaccine. Because the vaccine had not been used widely outside of China, PATH, in consultation with the manufacturer Chengdu Institute of Biological Products (CDIBP), WHO, and ministries of health, conducted pivotal clinical trials to help prove it was safe and effective. The vaccine also needed to be affordable for use in low-income countries, so PATH negotiated with CDIBP to establish a special public-sector price and partnered to scale up its manufacturing capacity to meet international standards and country demand.
Laying this groundwork opened the door for critical vaccine financing from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and allowed PATH to continue collaborating with international partners and ministries of health throughout Asia to accelerate vaccine introduction.
Forging effective partnerships like these make it possible to bring affordable lifesaving vaccines to families around the world. PATH continues to create partnerships to develop and deliver vaccines to women and children around the world.