HANOI, Vietnam — The 4th Partners Forum on the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI) concluded Nov. 19, on the 20th anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child. The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations was established nearly 10 years ago to accelerate the availability of vaccines and immunizations for child-related illnesses. The alliance works to strengthen the capacity of health systems to deliver immunizations and other health services, to increase predictability and sustainability of long term financing for national immunizations programs and to increase public-private partnerships.
20 years ago, world leaders recognized the need for a special set of rights to protect the child. Article 6 under this convention specifically says, “Children have the right to live. Governments should ensure that children survive and develop healthily.” And so was the topic of the meeting here in Hanoi. The 4th GAVI Partners Forum examined one intervention for child health — immunizations. Over 450 representatives from governments including donor and recipient countries, private sector, non-governmental organizations and invidual volunteers met to discuss how best to reach the 24 million children still not reached through immunizations. After all, as Mary Robinson said in her opening remarks, “It is the right of the child to access life-saving vaccinations to help lead a healthy life.”
Over the last 20 years, much progress has been made to ensure that children survive and develop healthily and this progress can in part be attributed to the availability of vaccines and immunizations. UNICEF estimates a 28 percent decrease in under-five mortality rates and a 74% decrease in deaths from measles due to vaccinanations. WHO predicts that over 256 million children have been immunized and 4 million premature deaths have been averted, in part due to immunizations and the work of GAVI. Vaccines have been developed for two major killers in children: pneumonia and diarrhea. And the same week as this meeting, we learned that supplies have increased and prices have dropped.
But the rights of a child to a healty life has not been realized by all children. According to UNICEF, 9 million children continue to die before reaching the age 5. Fully one billion children are deprived of one or more services essential to survival and development. And while WHO estimates that 106 million children were immunized in 2008, 24 million children still do not have access to vaccines and immunizations. The pneumo and rotavirus vaccines are still not available throughout the world.
We spent a lot of time here discussing the successes of the GAVI Alliance and the partnerships and indeed GAVI’s work has led to achievements in ensuring that children lead healthy lives as noted by the successes already mentioned. We discussed the benefits of public-private partnerships. We also touched upon some of the barriers to full access to vaccines and immunizations by children in the developing world — financial and health systems. But what can we do together to help children realize the right to a healthy life through increased availability of vaccines? This is something that still needs to be developed more thoroughly. In the meantime, let me offer some thoughts: We must:
- continue to foster political will among donor and recipient countries. The U.S., Norway, U.K. and other donor governments have announced the intent to invest more resources and attention to child health. Let’s make sure the rhetoric turns into reality through increased funding and better health policy. Let’s continue to encourage civil society to mobilize around immunization campaigns and keep up the momentum of developing country governments to also fully invest in this;
- fully engage all aspects of civil society, especially the ones who are doing the work to deliver the vaccines — a discussion point that fell short of expectations at this forum;
- have a fuller discussion on the gaps in public-private partnerships and how to improve upon the successes of them;
- continue to foment greater investments in research and development — a must for vaccine production — another missing element in these discussions.