Poverty hampering access to vaccine: WHO chief

GENEVA, July 14, 2009 (AFP) - World Health Organisation chief Margaret Chan on Tuesday warned that poverty will prevent some countries from gaining access to swine flu vaccines, as she criticised a bias in favour of richer nations.

"Manufacturing capacity for influenza vaccines is finite and woefully inadequate for a world of 6.8 billion people, nearly all of whom are susceptible to infection by this entirely new and highly contagious virus," she told delegates attending a World Intellectual Property Organisation conference.

"The lion's share of these limited supplies will go to wealthy countries. Again we see the advantage of affluence. Again we see access denied by an inability to pay," added.

"In the field of health, public policy will remain imperfect as long as access to life-saving interventions is biased in favour of affluence," Chan told the WIPO conference.

Chan's remarks came a day after a senior WHO official said that all countries will need access to vaccines against the "unstoppable" A(H1N1) influenza pandemic.

A Thai hospital worker wearing a mask (L) attends to a Thai Muslim girl (R) in a hospital in Narthiwat, Thailand on July 14, 2009 (AFP photo)

During a meeting on swine flu earlier July, developing countries and the WHO called for measures to ensure that poorer nations were also given access to the vaccine.

The WHO says it is negotiating with vaccine producers to secure donations or sales at lower prices for developing countries, while richer nations are being asked to donate some of their vaccine stocks.

Chan said then that thanks to an agreement "with two companies, 250 million doses" will be sent to developing countries, an amount that she acknowledged "is obviously not enough."

Source: AFP

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