Published: Thursday 15 December 2005

Cuban Scientist USA

A Cuban scientist who helped develop a low-cost vaccine that prevents meningitis and pneumonia in children was denied a visa to travel to the us to receive an award. Vicente Verez-Bencomo was to accept a award given to him by the Tech Museum of Innovation, San Jose. He had also been invited to address the Society for Glycobiology, Boston. The scientist said that the us State Department denied him a visa "because the visit would be detrimental to us interests". Said, Verez-Bencomo, "That is really offensive. I wasn't going there to discuss politics".

Recently, Verez-Bencomo led a team that developed a vaccine for Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib), a bacteria that causes meningitis and pneumonia. Before the development of a similar vaccine a decade ago, Hib was the biggest cause of meningitis among infants in the us. That earlier vaccine has all but stamped out the disease in the western world, but mass immunisations are too expensive for many poor countries. The synthetic vaccine created by Verez-Bencomo's team can be produced at a relatively low cost making it a viable alternative for poorer nations.

Officials at the San Jose Tech Museum were also disappointed. "We recognised them for cutting-edge technology and wish that hadn't been the government's decision,'' museum spokesman Tony Santos said.

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