South Africa aims to produce own H1N1 flu vaccine

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa has no choice but to develop its own H1N1 flu vaccine, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said on Wednesday, citing concerns treatment will not be available to poorer nations.

A nurse from the Swine flu Vaccination Alpha Team (SVAT) displays a syringe containing a test H1N1 vaccine at the University Hospital of Antwerp, August 10, 2009. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

“South Africa has arrived at a situation where we have no option but to start developing our own vaccine capacity, not only for H1N1, but generally,” Motsoaledi told parliament.

“The disturbing feature about today’s world... has been expressed by the minister of health for Cambodia... who noted that the developed world, after producing the vaccine, may want to cover their own population first before thinking about the developing world,” Motsoaledi said.

South Africa does have a growing vaccine industry, but is considered by experts to be unlikely to be able to produce a swine flu vaccine any time soon.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared swine flu a pandemic in June. It has killed some 1,800 people after spreading to nearly 180 countries, 25 of them in Africa.

Latest figures from South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases show 15 people have died from the virus and over 5,000 cases have been reported.

Swine flu, which mostly hits pregnant women and young children, has infected about 182,000 people worldwide, according to official figures, although health experts and scientists say the real tally is probably in the millions.

It is largely treatable using oseltamivir but vaccines are recommended as a population-wide method of prevention.

Motsoaledi, citing WHO statistics, said potential H1N1 vaccines were unlikely to be developed before November at the earliest or by April next year.

“Unfortunately ... there is no capacity in developing countries to produce their own vaccines and at the moment all the vaccine production is being processed in Europe and America, with China also in the process of doing so,” he said.

Companies making vaccines include AstraZeneca’s MedImmune unit, CSL, GlaxoSmithKline Plc, Novartis AG and Sanofi-Aventis SA.

Roche AG and Gilead Sciences Inc’s Tamiflu and Glaxo’s Relenza can treat influenza, and were recommended for people with a risk of complications or death.

Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by Victoria Main