September 21, 2005

World encephalitis vaccine stock inadequate – India

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The world's entire stock of
encephalitis vaccines is inadequate to meet India's needs to
prevent the disease which has killed 850 people in the last two
months, the health minister said on Wednesday.

Several districts in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh
were hit by an outbreak of Japanese encephalitis in late July
after health officials had neglected widespread vaccination
drives in vulnerable areas, experts say.

Federal and state health authorities have now moved to
increase domestic production as well as import vaccines to
prevent future outbreaks but meeting the large demand is
proving difficult, officials said.

"Unfortunately today, the total world's capacity of
vaccines does not compare with India's requirements," minister
Anbumani Ramadoss told reporters.

He said Indian laboratories had been asked to increase
production, and efforts were under way to buy stocks from South
Korea, Cambodia, Vietnam, China and Japan.

"Hopefully, we will be getting 5-6 million doses," Ramadoss

added. He gave no details of India's total vaccine

Health officials in Uttar Pradesh, an impoverished, densely
populated state, say they vaccinated 400,000 children last year
and aimed to cover 7.5 million children in that state alone
ahead of the 2006 monsoon season when the disease is common.

The encephalitis virus, first identified in Japan, is found
in pigs and wild birds and is spread to humans by mosquitoes.

It affects the brain, with symptoms including high fever,
severe headaches and convulsions which could lead to paralysis,
coma and death.

The present encephalitis outbreak is the most serious in
India in nearly three decades. Most of the victims are children
because their immunity levels are low and they are unable to
protect themselves from mosquitoes.

Ramadoss said the fact that thousands of poor people in
villages live in close proximity to pigs, or rear them for a
living, made it difficult to prevent the disease.