Historic Moment in Global Health: Delivering on China's Potential for Combatting a Deadly Disease

The World Health Organization (WHO) has put its stamp of approval on a vaccine that will pave the way to protecting millions of children from a devastating disease called Japanese encephalitis (JE). It's an historic moment not just because the vaccine has the potential to safeguard so many lives, but because it signals China's foray into the global vaccine marketplace.

The JE vaccine -- known as SA 14-14-2 -- is the first-ever vaccine produced in China to receive WHO prequalification. Prequalification is essential to impact, as it clears the way for poor countries to secure the financing and vaccine supply needed to introduce and use the vaccine. And prequalification of a Chinese vaccine signals even more, as China's entrance into the global vaccine marketplace has the potential to fundamentally shift how vaccines are made, delivered and priced for the developing world.

Transmitted by mosquitos, JE primarily affects children younger than age 15. It claims roughly 15,000 young lives each year and leaves tens of thousands of survivors with lifelong neurological disabilities -- creating great strains on families, communities and overburdened health systems. One of the most frightening aspects of JE is that there's no treatment.

PATH, the global health enterprise I lead, has applied innovation every step of the way to this tremendous global health milestone. In the early 2000s, our research revealed that the disease was a bigger problem than countries had ever realized. We also learned about an existing vaccine--made and used in China for more than 20 years--that had the potential to protect the four billion children across Asia and the Western Pacific who are at risk of the disease.

Our team knew that a JE vaccine that could be used in mass immunization campaigns and incorporated into routine immunization programs could change the face of the disease. China had vaccinated more than 200 million of its children against JE, with stellar results. Unlike other JE vaccines, China's solution was affordable and easy to administer in large campaigns--as well as safe and effective. But it remained out of reach for countries beyond China.

PATH forged an innovative partnership with the Chengdu Institute of Biological Products (CDIBP), with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Our partnership has been the cornerstone of this success, as together we've dramatically increased the vaccine's accessibility to the countries that have endured JE's toll, and we've prepared the vaccine for an unprecedented rollout in several countries particularly hard-hit by the disease, such as Laos and Cambodia.

The challenge was a perfect fit for both partners. For PATH, it matched our unique approach of identifying the promise of an existing innovation and providing the technical assistance and support needed for wide-scale use. For CDIPB, it reflected an opportunity to further scale production of high-quality vaccines at affordable prices. Together, PATH and CDIPB are boosting production of the vaccine, ensuring a favorable public-sector price, heightening countries' awareness of JE and strengthening health systems and immunization services to ensure that the countries that need it are ready to receive it.

Our work has demonstrated how welcoming high-quality, affordable vaccine manufacturing capabilities from countries such as China can have a meaningful impact on the world's health needs -- in this case, by bolstering the long-term supply and reducing cost of vaccines. And because CDIBP and its parent company have created an export market for their vaccine, the model has further incentivized their commitment to innovation, production and collaboration in this space -- all key to sustainability. By doing so, they're advancing China's increasingly active role in global health and development -- and showing how partnerships like these can be collaborative, complementary and effective.

Even before WHO prequalification, with PATH's support, eleven countries outside of China have licensed or used the vaccine so they could begin immunizing their children. In India alone, 88 million children have been vaccinated against JE since 2006. That's an astonishing game-changer for millions of families.

For PATH, the JE vaccine story is a prime example of what we have always done, and done well. Tapping into the potential of countries such as China and partners like CDIBP, we find the best ideas, accelerate them through our development pipeline, ensure they're affordable and then scale them up and introduce them to the communities that need them the most. We collaborate with groups across sectors and countries who share our passion for innovation and our commitment to health equity -- because no child should die of preventable disease.

Now, more children than ever will have protection from this devastating disease. It's a shining global health success and a model for how the global health community can redefine the way our world takes great ideas to scale.