Memo to DFAT: fund vaccines
By John Godwin
In 2017, DFAT announced $75 million funding for development of new drugs and diagnostics for TB and malaria (Product Development Partnership (PDP) Fund 2018-2022).
A troubling feature of the announcement was DFAT’s failure to commit funding to vaccine research and development (R&D). Why support “diagnostics and therapeutics”, but not vaccines?
Vaccines are without doubt the most powerful public health tool for disease eradication. No major human infectious disease has been eradicated without a vaccine against it. Every year, vaccines avert three million deaths. Vaccines have eradicated smallpox and enabled a 99% reduction in polio incidence globally, and have dramatically reduced infant mortality.
The failure to invest in new vaccines for TB and malaria is inconsistent with other aspects of DFAT’s new Health Security Initiative. Vaccine research is not entirely off the DFAT agenda. The website for the Indo-Pacific Health Security Initiative states that there will be new DFAT support for vaccine R&D. But DFAT has clarified that this reference does not apply to products supported through the Product Development Partnerships (PDP) Fund, but instead relates to “rapid vaccine development as part of the international response to a disease outbreak”. So DFAT will fund ‘rapid’ research into vaccines for new disease threats, but not for fighting the more deadly epidemics that we have been battling for centuries.
So why is DFAT shutting the door on funding vaccine research for well-established diseases such as TB and malaria, the infectious killers that impose the highest disease burdens? In December, DFAT published the evaluation of the PDP Program 2013-2018 and its response. These documents shed light on DFAT’s thinking.