WHO official sees promise from India cholera vaccine

GENEVA — Because deadly cholera infections are still on the rise, producing oral cholera vaccines in poor countries could help boost the immunity of those most vulnerable to the water-borne disease, a World Health Organization official said March 1.

Claire-Lise Chaignat, head of the WHO's global task force on cholera control, said infections continue to propagate in poorer countries that cannot afford vaccines made by Western companies such as Crucell's drinkable Dukoral formula.

Recent trials with a vaccine made by India's Shantha Biotechnics yielded positive results and Chaignat said such production could help make the vaccine more accessible where it is most desperately needed.

"It is good when countries with high cholera incidence can produce their own vaccine. We have high expectations from this vaccine, which is in the pipeline for pre-qualification by WHO," Chaignat said in the WHO Bulletin, a journal of the U.N. agency.

At present, Dukoral, which was first licensed in 1992, is the only oral cholera vaccine the WHO has officially endorsed or "pre-qualified" for widespread use. The WHO has not said whether it would give its stamp of approval to the Indian-made vaccine.

Cholera, which spreads through contaminated food and water as well as poor hygiene, can kill healthy adults within hours from severe dehydration. Iraq and Zimbabwe have experienced large recent outbreaks and the WHO has said millions of people worldwide may be infected every year.