How Ebola could protect Africa from flu virus

The Ebola epidemic in west Africa and the lack of a vaccine to treat the deadly disease could have an unexpected potential health benefit in the continent’s fight against another killer: influenza, or flu.

Speaking at the UN in Geneva on Thursday, World Health Organization (WHO) partner Professor William Ampofo said that African heads of state are now convinced of the need to produce vaccines domestically, after Ebola highlighted their countries’ vulnerability to illness.

Worldwide, the fight against flu has made much progress in the 10 years since WHO launched a campaign to boost vaccine production, but the UN agency maintains it remains “a serious and continuous threat to the global population”.

Daniel Johnson reports.

Ebola had a terrible effect on the west African countries it touched, causing well over 11,000 deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Now it seems that something positive could come out of the experience, with some of the continent’s leaders now determined to support domestic production of vaccines to fight flu – another deadly disease.

Professor William Ampofo is from the University of Ghana; he’s a health expert and member of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Action Plan for Influenza vaccines.

“Because of what happened with Ebola, now the countries in Africa, in west Africa especially, the ministers of health are now giving attention to vaccine production capacity on the African continent. They recognize however that it’s very difficult, but they feel that something must be started.”

While flu virus affects the northern hemisphere just once a year in the winter, in some African countries around the equator, it’s a year-round threat.

Globally, the threat of a flu pandemic also remains “serious and continuous”, the World Health Organization says, citing potentially half a million deaths from the virus every year already.

The UN health agency’s warning comes despite a fourfold increase in influenza vaccine in the last 10 years, to 6.2 billion doses in 2015.

To date in Africa, South Africa and Egypt are the only countries to be granted licences by WHO to produce the vaccine.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva

Duration: 1’30?

Source: United Nations Radio.