Even as India Inc is hardselling its growth story in Africa and all eyes are on the magic figure of $100 billion bilateral trade between the two by 2015, a shortage of yellow fever vaccine might play a spoilsport.
In fact, many travellers, mostly on their business tours, have been forced to cancel trips to Africa as yellow fever vaccines have run out of stock. The vaccine is mandatory for travel to African and South American countries considered endemic regions for the disease. Yellow fever is a viral, haemorrhagic fever spread by mosquitoes.
According to official sources, the vaccine, manufactured domestically only by one Central government-run institute, is out of stock for the last two-three months. However, the shortage has been there for almost a year, with very few dosages available in retail. While the shortage was primarily caused because government-run Central Research Institute (CRI) in Kasauli stopped manufacturing the vaccine a year ago, the problem grew severe with import procurement also facing procedural delays, an official, in know of developments, told Business Standard.
“The government used to procure yellow fever vaccine through import. But because of some long pending issues in purchase, procedure and payment, the supplies are hampered and that is the main reason for this dire shortage,” the official said.
Industry officials said if the shortage continues, it would certainly hamper business activities in a big way. The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry plans to lead a delegation to at least eight countries in Africa during the current financial year —including Liberia, Mozambique, Mauritius, Rwanda, Malawi, Ghana and Zambia. Apart from this, Ficci is in touch with 19 other nations to become participants in its showcase programme Namaskar Africa set to take place in Zambia later this year. The bilateral trade between India and Africa currently accounts for around $70 billion, but the Indian industry is eyeing a major ramp up of operations in the region. In such a scenario, the shortage of the yellow fever vaccine might play a spoilsport.According to a top CRI official, while the demand for the vaccine is increasing constantly, the government does not have proper infrastructure and required funds to cater to the need. The institute used to manufacture a maximum of 4 million dosages till a year ago, when it stopped production. “The total requirement then was for 10.5 million, so the rest of the need was met through imports. However, the problem has grown because of issues in import,” the CRI official said. The institute stopped manufacturing after two of its machines used for the purpose broke down. “An important part known as a freezer drier, used to dry the liquid form of the vaccine, has been out of order. Since it is an imported machine, it is an expensive affair to repair the machine,” the official said.
Though the sale of the vaccine is allowed through retail, a person travelling to Africa or South American countries is required to get a certification from authorised or designated vaccine centres, which are in a few metropolitan cities. “With these designated centres running short of supplies, those who have to travel to these destinations are forced to cancel their trips,” said Suresh Gupta, General Secretary, All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists. Gupta, who is a wholesaler of medicines, has been contacted by various people in the past two months for the vaccine. However, he added, the vaccine is now in huge shortage even in retail. Besides, the cost of the vaccine in the private sector is between Rs 2,500- Rs 3,000, against Rs 150 at a government centre.
To address the issue, the government has recently started procuring from Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccine division of Sanofi. The company, which imports the vaccine from France and sells it in India under its brand Stamaril, says it is suddenly faced with an unanticipated demand for the medicine.
“Given the current shortage of yellow fever vaccine brands at authorised government vaccination centres across the country, we are faced with an increased and unanticipated demand for Stamaril. To help meet the nation’s urgent requirement, we have immediately sourced and imported quantities of Stamaril. A major part of the first shipment that arrived, has already been provided to government institutions,” a Sanofi spokesperson said. She added the company is expecting further shipments and is working towards ensuring that the vaccine is made available in required quantities as soon as possible.