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Russia and Nicaragua Launch Central America's First Vaccine Plant

© Sputnik / Russia and Nicaragua Launch Central America’s First Vaccine Plant
Russia and Nicaragua Launch Central America’s First Vaccine Plant - Sputnik International
Russian and Nicaraguan officials gave a start on Wednesday to the production of a commercially available influenza vaccine at the Institute Mechnikov in Managua – a joint venture that is capable of supplying all of Central and South America with a variety of medical products.

If you're looking for a particular address in Nicaragua — be prepared for a one-of-a-kind quiz in history and geography. There are no addresses in the conventional sense and venues are described with reference to local landmarks. So, a typical postal address in this Central American country would probably look like "From the Merced Church, one block south, half a block east". But if you ask locals in the capital Managua where the "Institute Mechnikov" is, it's likely that they would show you the venue without additional reference points.

Inside the compound, there is a state-of-the art production line, capable of producing hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses per day. The equipment has been supplied by major European manufacturers.

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The plant is being managed by a Nicaraguan company, but the Russian side, which is represented by the Saint Petersburg scientific research institute of vaccines and serums, invested heavily in the project, as well as provided technology transfer and training. Government spending on the project's equipment and construction amounted to $33.5 million, with 34% being paid by the Nicaraguan side. It took less than nine months to build the plant in 2016, and almost two years to complete the rest of the work, including getting permissions, validations, and training plant workers — about one third of the normal time-frame for projects of this type. The labs were built from scratch, with some construction material being flown in from Russia.

Most employees at the Institute Mechnikov are either Russians, Nicaraguans who studied in Russia, or people with mixed background, like the plant's IT chief Marcelo Munos, who has Russian and Ecuadorean roots. He works in the heart of the facility — a control room with CCTV feeds and assembly line data on dozens of monitors.

"I speak three languages and I'm trying to capacitate my colleagues to use all these systems", Munos told Sputnik. "Many of them didn't work with these systems, so after we installed them, we also provided training for the personnel".

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Roberto Lopez is the president of Nicaragua's Institute of Social Insurance. He told Sputnik that the facility made it possible for Nicaragua to acquire new technology, and that, in turn, will give his country easier access to cheaper vaccines:

"It will help us to train staff, to start using equipment capable of producing biotechnological products which are in high demand both locally and globally. Whatever we buy at the moment — we pay very high price for it, so this plant will give access for Latin American countries to hi-tech medical products at a fair price".

Russia's Deputy Health Minister Sergey Krayevoy, who arrived in Managua to launch the production of the first commercial vaccine batches, pointed out that Mechnikov is capable of producing more than one product.

"The plant can make 300,000 doses of influenza vaccine per day, which makes it possible to make a year-long supply in just two months", said Krayevoy. "So we have 9-10 months per year when we can produce other modern types of medicine, which are in high demand in Nicaragua, as well as in all of Central and South America."

The idea to build the Managua plant was endorsed in 2013 by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Nicaraguan counterpart, Daniel Ortega.

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South America and the Carribean Basin make up about 8% of the global pharmaceutical market. The local population, which exceeds 600 million people, needs modern immunobiological drugs, and aside from Mechnikov, there are no other facilities in the region that could supply vaccines that are certified for use in the region at competitive prices.

With all that in mind, Managua and Moscow could very well make the Institute Mechnikov not only a domestic Nicaraguan, but also a regional industry reference point — a "pharmaceutical landmark" known all over Central and South America.

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