Sweet vaccine

Cuban scientists gear up to fight meningitis

Published: Tuesday 31 August 2004

decades of trade embargo by the us did not chip away the biomedical edge of Cuba. This fact was crystal clear recently when the country's scientists announced that they have developed a synthetic vaccine for meningitis -- a disease that kills more than 600,000 children annually in developing countries.

The Cuban vaccine is being hailed as far superior to the ones available in the market currently. Interestingly, its research paper appeared in the July 2004 issue of the prestigious American journal Science barely a month after the us permitted its periodicals to publish papers from scientists belonging to countries that face the trade embargo.

The vaccine has been prepared by chemists led by Vicente Vrez Bencomo of the University of Havana. It is based on sugars (carbohydrates) made by the chemical processing industry. When injected into the arm, it stimulates the body's immune system to hunt and subsequently kill the disease-causing bacterium. During clinical trials involving more than 2,000 Cuban children, it elicited a strong immune response in 99.7 per cent of the cases. This makes it as effective as the vaccine now being used in North America, whose cost is almost double. Moreover, it is said to have no adverse side-effects. Since January 2004, it has been used for immunising 300,000 Cuban youngsters.

As per Bencomo, the vaccine can be readily mass-manufactured. The scientists have already produced up to 100 grammes of the synthetic sugar component, which is enough to make millions of doses. It is so potent that one gramme can produce 100,000 doses of vaccine.

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