Goal is to Reduce Burden of Life-threatening Diseases in Mali
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program has awarded the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Center for Vaccine Development (CVD) $3.5 million to vaccinate children in Mali, Africa against a bacteria that causes fatal meningitis and other serious infections. CVD researchers will monitor the impact of the vaccine, called haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) conjugate, which is known to reduce the incidence of bacterial infections in children. It has been used in the United States and other industrialized countries for more than a decade.
“This bacteria is the leading cause of fatal forms of bacterial meningitis and causes other serious infections, such as pneumonia, cellulitis and certain types of arthritis among infants and young children,” says Myron Levine, M.D., D.T.P.H, professor of medicine, microbiology and immunology and pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and director of the Center for Vaccine Development.
“In spite of its effectiveness, use of this vaccine has been extremely rare in developing countries, particularly poor countries of Africa. We hope to document the positive impact this vaccine has on reducing the number of these diseases so that neighboring countries will be encouraged to use it as well.”
According to Dr. Levine, the principal investigator on the Gates Foundation grant, there are numerous barriers that impede introduction of vaccines in developing nations. “The cost of the vaccine is certainly a factor,” he says. “But health officials in those countries also have limited information on where disease is most concentrated and the best methods for dispensing the vaccine to those who need it most – in this case, infants and young children.”
In 2000, the Center for Vaccine Development and Mali’s Ministry of Health established a CVD-Mali program at the major children’s hospital in the capital city of Bamako, where there is a large incidence of Hib disease among infants and children.
The Malian government subsequently applied for and received a five-year supply of Hib vaccine from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations and will start immunizing children this month. The Alliance brings together governments in developing and industrialized countries, established and emerging vaccine manufacturers, nongovernmental organizations, research institutes, UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Bank. The Alliance’s mission is to save children’s lives and protect people’s health through the widespread use of vaccines
In the first year of the three-year Gates Foundation grant, infants in Bamako, where 10 percent of Malian children live, will receive the vaccine at six, 10 and 14 weeks of age. In the second year, the vaccine will be given to children in other urban locations of the country and in the third year, infants in rural areas will be immunized.
When the Hib vaccine is introduced, data will be collected on the numbers of children still hospitalized at the local children’s hospital in Bamako because of infection and those treated in its emergency room. Researchers will also collect blood from a random sample of infants vaccinated in the capital city to measure changes in the amount of immunity to Hib. Researchers will compare the incidence of infection before and after vaccine introduction.
In 2000, the Center for Vaccine Development received a $20 million grant from the Gates Foundation to develop a measles vaccine to protect infants younger than nine months old in developing countries. CVD researchers have created a vaccine that shows promising results in laboratory studies and they have established field sites in Mali where phase I and phase II trials will be conducted.
“The Gates Foundation continues to provide tremendous support for the development and implementation of vaccines to protect children in developing countries,” says Dr. Levine. “Its efforts undoubtedly will lead to unprecedented improvements in disease prevention for children most in need.”
For patient inquiries, call 1-800-492-5538 or click here to make an appointment.