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Contact: Laura Cooley, 206.285.3500, lcooley@path.org.

Seattle, August 30, 2005—Public health officials in Asia will soon have a new way to share information and track a disease that every year kills and disables people in the region. Japanese encephalitis (JE), a mosquito-borne disease and close cousin to West Nile virus, infects up to 50,000 people per year throughout Asia—most of them children. PATH, an international nonprofit organization, is launching the Japanese Encephalitis Prevention Network (JEPN), a web portal that will serve as a clearinghouse and information center to help countries share information to track data about the disease, record outbreaks, and exchange information on control strategies.

Up to 70 percent of those infected with JE either die or suffer long-term neurological disability, yet policymakers and public health officials in the affected region often lack access to information on how to prevent, diagnose, and treat the disease. PATH’s JE Project hopes to help solve this dilemma by making JEPN available to 18 Asian nations and other interested partners, like the World Health Organization, working to control JE.  

“The new network provides a platform to share information about the disease both within countries and across countries in Asia,” said Julie Jacobson, MD, director of PATH’s JE Project. PATH hopes that by supporting this network, the magnitude of the problem can be better understood. “We hope that the information collected from the field will help countries to share their experience of how to control the disease in diverse settings in Asia,” said Jacobson.

Immunization is the only effective way to prevent JE. The JEPN will increase access to knowledge and information about JE among country decision-makers, donors, and other international partners, and thereby elevate awareness of the disease. The network is given technical support by Voxiva Inc., a provider of information solutions, through its office in New Delhi, India.

JEPN promises to overcome challenges faced in controlling the disease as well as offer a mechanism to ask questions and share ideas about disease control. The new site makes use of maps, graphs, and verbal reports to track the disease and report on it in countries and in the region.

Public health officials estimate that 3 billion people (60 percent of the world’s population) live in JE-endemic regions. Almost half of all survivors of Japanese encephalitis are left with a long-term disability, including paralysis, seizures, and mental retardation, but there is often little awareness the disease can have such devastating effects.    

Although a vaccine against Japanese encephalitis was first discovered in 1941, it was not made widely available. One exception is China, which has over the last 15 years vaccinated well over 200 million children with a newer, improved vaccine produced locally. And while research on a West Nile vaccine has surged since the disease struck the United States in 1999, work on a better vaccine against JE—a disease still largely limited to the developing world—had received little support until 2003, when the US-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation granted US$27 million to PATH to work on accelerating JE vaccine efforts.

More information

PATH is an international, nonprofit organization that creates sustainable, culturally relevant solutions that enable communities worldwide to break longstanding cycles of poor health. By collaborating with diverse public- and private-sector partners, PATH helps provide appropriate health technologies and vital strategies that change the way people think and act. PATH’s work improves global health and well-being. Visit www.path.org for more information about PATH or, for a direct link to more specific information about PATH’s Japanese Encephalitis Project, visit www.path.org/JE. PATH’s JE Project aims to improve disease surveillance, accelerate development of an improved vaccine, and integrate JE vaccine into immunization programs in Asia. For more information on the JEPN, visit www.jepn.org.