Although the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic shows signs of abating, the economic and political impact of this epidemic has been enormous. Next time, a virulent new strain of influenza, for example, could spread much more rapidly than SARS, which is not especially contagious by comparison with other respiratory diseases, with even more dramatic consequences.
"Even if SARS does disappear, the world must remain on guard against the next new disease. It is time to support a global war on disease. Richest countries should be investing efforts and funds to strengthen the health infrastructures in countries around the world. Infectious diseases do not respect national boundaries." warned Prof. Barry Bloom Dean of the Harvard School of Public Health and chairman of the IVI Board of Trustees, in his keynote speech for the IVI inauguration symposium, "New Frontiers in Vaccinology Research."
The IVI, the only international organization headquartered in Korea, has just moved into a new $140 million headquarters building, generously donated by the Korean government. The two-day conference marking the completion of the headquarters brought together about 200 leading experts from around the world to discuss the state-of-the-art in research and development of vaccines for poverty-related diseases.
Vaccination is widely recognized as one of the most cost-effective tools of public health policy. However, despite recent advances in public health, the world´s poorest regions are still suffering a heavy toll of premature death and disability from infectious diseases for which vaccines do not exist or else need to be improved. Infectious diseases are still responsible for around a third of all deaths, killing at least 15 million people a year. Of those, more than 5 million are children under five.
"There are, however, reasons to be optimistic. Never have there been so many vaccines in various stages of development as now and the number of available vaccines stands to increase further," said Sir Gustav Nossal, Professor Emeritus at the University of Melbourne and Chairman of the IVI Support Council. "However, as research and development into important new vaccines matures into actual products, it will be imperative that the fruits of all this work are rapidly made available to the developing countries. Despite new funding opportunities and the generosity of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, rapid introduction of new vaccines into developing countries will require new funding mechanisms from both international sources, and from within the affected countries. "
However, lack of funds has not been the only reason why inequity in access to existing and newly licensed vaccines has increased over the past two decades. When considering whether to add a new vaccine to public health programs, policymakers and program managers need to know if the disease poses a public health problem in their country and whether a vaccine can be effectively introduced without disrupting on-going activities, and what added requirements - in terms of personnel, costs, and other inputs.
"While the current focus of research on many new vaccines is understandably on surmounting the biological challenges of creating safe and protective vaccine candidates,"- said John D. Clemens, Director of the IVI- "experience with the introduction of other new-generation vaccines into developing countries underscores the importance, even at a relatively early stage of vaccine development, of undertaking research to answer key policy questions about the ultimate deployment of these new vaccines in public health practice."
During the past few years, the IVI has focused its efforts in generating crucial evidence for introduction into public health programs of new vaccines against cholera, Shigella, typhoid fever, dengue, Japanese encephalitis and respiratory diseases through several downstream, multidisciplinary programs of research and technical assistance in several countries of Asia including Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The opening of the IVI´s laboratories and the recruitment of high quality scientific staff will enable the IVI to strengthen its existing programs by developing a laboratory research and technical assistance program aligned to the IVI´s vision.
The IVI was founded in 1997 at the initiative of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). A not-for-profit International Organization, the IVI aims at improving the health of children in developing countries through the development, introduction and use of new and improved vaccines of public health importance.
For more information about the IVI please visit www.ivi.int or contact firstname.lastname@example.org