While top officials of the health and foreign affairs ministries are busy seeking suitable sources of Covid-19 vaccines, a Prothom Alo report has sparked our curiousity. The report said that Bangladesh once had the capacity for vaccine manufacture.
In the fifty years of Bangladesh’s independence, we have many remarkable successes, as well as failures. The development of pharmaceutical industry is among the success stories of the country which now exports medicines after meeting its domestic needs. The reverse side of the coin is policymakers’ negligence, irregularities, inefficiency and faulty steps that have brought many successful institutions to brink of extinction.
Established in 1954, the Institute of Public Health used to produce six vaccines -- for smallpox, cholera, typhoid, paratyphoid and rabies. It is logical that the government stopped production of smallpox vaccine as the infectious disease had been eradicated. Why the government stopped production of other vaccines?
The Institute of Public Health was in production of rabies vaccine even a decade ago. In the last 10 years, production of all vaccines has been stopped in phases on ‘advice’ of the World Health Organization (WHO). Why should we accept such advice if it goes against our national interests? As far as we know, WHO had stressed on updating the old vaccine manufacturing units. But the government policymakers preferred 'severing the head to cure headache'.
During 2006-2007, in the meetings of Serum Institute of India and Institute of Public Health, Serum scientists provided Bangladesh a blueprint for setting up of a modern vaccine factory. That was the beginning and the end. Health ministry officials seem interested more in importing than manufacturing the vaccines.
The ongoing Covid-19 crisis again has pointed out the importance of local production of vaccines.
After the outbreak of coronavirus, many developing countries along with the developed ones initiated experiments on Covid-19 vaccine production. Instead of following suit, Bangladesh depended on a single source Serum Institute for the Covid-19 vaccine.
So far, Bangladesh has received seven million doses from Serum, though, a deal binds the institute to supply total 30 million doses, that is, five million monthly.
Given the prevailing scarcity, the government has come to its senses and has made efforts to collect vaccines from various sources, including China, Russia and the United States. Russia, on certain conditions, has agreed to provide vaccine production technology to Bangladesh.
Even if Bangladesh gets vaccines from China and Russia, the supply would meet only part of the actual requirement.
The government has announced that 80 per cent of Bangladesh population will be brought under the Covid-19 vaccination. More or less, around 130 million people cover the 80 per cent of 170 million total population.
It will be tough to collect 260 million doses of the vaccine to administer two shots to every single receiver.
If the vaccine is produced locally, its cost will be less, saving the exchequer. If needed, Bangladesh will export vaccines also. Let the lost ‘glory’ of the Institute of Public Health be restored. All the necessary vaccines including for Covid-19 should be manufactured in the country.