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Cambodia waiting for WHO dengue vaccine approval

A mother watches over her son, who was diagnosed with dengue fever, at a hospital in Phnom Penh.
A mother watches over her son, who was diagnosed with dengue fever, at a hospital in Phnom Penh. Hong Menea

Cambodia waiting for WHO dengue vaccine approval

Although the number of dengue fever cases in Cambodia nearly tripled during the first 17 weeks of 2016 compared to the same period last year, a health official said a vaccine for the mosquito-borne virus still needs to be vetted by the WHO before local licensing and introduction could be considered.

From January to April, the Kingdom saw 1,510 confirmed dengue cases and three deaths, compared to 550 infections and one death at the same point in 2015, said Rithea Leang, the national dengue control program manager at the Ministry of Health.

In spite of several recent meetings in which the dengue vaccine has come up, he added, the ministry is focusing on the Japanese Encephalitis vaccine for the time being.

“WHO is awaiting a submission of an application from the manufacturer for prequalifications of this vaccine,” he said.

The dengue vaccine, dengvaxia, was first licensed in Mexico in December 2015 for use in individuals aged 9 to 45 years old living in endemic areas. It was developed by French drug maker Sanofi and approved based on two large trials that showed it protected two-thirds of its participants against all four of the virus’ serotypes.

A group of WHO experts met last month to review the vaccine, and recommended that countries consider introduction of the vaccine only in geographic settings with high incidence rates, Leang said.

WHO in July will publish a report specifying its position on the vaccine and outlining its recommendations. WHO Cambodia officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The number of dengue cases on a yearly basis in the Kingdom ranges from 10,000 to 25,000, Leang said.

“We cannot predict the impact specifically for Cambodia until it can be introduced to the community,” he added.

Rob Kelly, a spokesman for the pro-vaccine non-profit GAVI, which has committed millions to support immunisation in Cambodia, said GAVI only funds vaccines that have received the green light from WHO.

“As things stand, the vaccine has received regulatory approval, but has not yet received prequalification or a WHO recommendation for use,” he said.

However, he added, GAVI has a process it uses to help its board decide whether to make funding available for new vaccines – with the next one due in 2018 – and dengue will be considered as part of that process, he added.

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