Parents and children lined up on a primary school playground in Xiangkhouang Province, Laos, in 2014, anticipating the arrival of some most welcome guests: health workers on motorbikes.
Carefully strapped to the back of their bikes were cold storage boxes full of vaccine vials that would protect the children from Japanese encephalitis, an incurable and deadly disease known as “brain fever.”
It was a celebratory, joyful scene repeated in communities across Asia last year as this long-awaited vaccine began reaching more families. An estimated 14 million children received the vaccine in 2014 through expanded vaccination efforts supported by PATH in Cambodia, India, and Laos.
At each step in the vaccine’s 11-year journey from the Chinese manufacturer to villages and districts in Laos and beyond, PATH and our partners were there to dismantle the barriers that threatened to keep it from reaching children at risk.
We identified a vaccine little known outside China, even helping the manufacturer build a state-of-the-art facility to ensure a high-quality vaccine supply. We worked with the World Health Organization (WHO) and ministries of health to prove it was safe and effective. We negotiated an affordable price for public health programs and provided technical support to help the manufacturer gain WHO approval for the vaccine.
That approval qualifies the vaccine for international financial support, making it affordable for countries where it is needed most.
Many countries moved ahead with immunization programs even before WHO approval, with PATH supporting six countries as they vaccinated an estimated 221 million children between 2003 and 2014.
In Cambodia, India, and Laos, PATH supported government efforts to train thousands of health workers to carry out successful immunization campaigns. We also helped India open more than 100 encephalitis treatment centers and establish an ambulance system to transport patients.
PATH technologies played a key role in ensuring the vaccine’s safe arrival in each community—from the containers that kept the vaccine at the right temperature during transport to the vaccine vial monitor affixed to each vial that ensured each dose had not been exposed to heat that could damage its potency.
When the vaccine finally reached Xiangkhouang Province last year, families walked for miles to protect their children. More than 500 children received vaccinations that day, and after swabbing the last small arm to receive the shot, one health worker smiled. “I feel like I’m celebrating a movement,” she said.
The Japanese encephalitis vaccine is expected to reach nearly 290 million people throughout Asia by 2017.
Key partners: Chengdu Institute of Biological Products Co., Ltd.; China National Biotec Group Co., Ltd.; Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; WHO; ministries of health across Asia.
Key funders: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Microsoft; individual contributors and family foundations.