NEW YORK, NY – Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-general of the World Health Organization in a high level panel hosted by GAVI, UNICEF and the Government of Kenya as part of the United Nations MDG Summit said that “vaccines are the best buy in public health”.
The GAVI Alliance was created in 2000 to respond to, and combat, rapidly declining immunization rates in developing countries. Since its inception, GAVI has managed to vaccinate over 250 million children vaccinated averting over five million premature deaths.
GAVI’s support was well noted by the developing country representatives at the panel. A Kenyan Ministry of Health representative noted that thanks to GAVI’s support of the ministry in launching the new pneumococcal vaccine against childhood pneumonia, the under-five mortality rates were starting to decline. Similar results were shown by the government representative of Nicaragua, where GAVI is helping with the launch of the rotavirus vaccine. In its third year of the program, data shows a 35-40 percent drop in infant mortality attributed to the rotavirus vaccine and improvements in sanitation.
Afghanistan’s minister of health also spoke about the power of vaccines. She spoke about the stewardship role the ministry of health took in defining a package of services and monitoring of its implementation. In 2002 measles vaccination was given to less that 30 percent of the children. Today, Afghanistan celebrates a near 70 percent coverage. Despite its success Afghanistan has still a long way to go, with only 30 percent of its children getting vaccinated for all the main child illnesses.
The representatives from the developed nations; Norway, UK and the US congratulated GAVI on its successes. The UK pledged a nearly $3 billion donation spread over next 20 years to keep GAVI running. GAVI was also praised for developing its International Finance Facility for Immunizations (IFFIM) which will manage the donor money more effectively so that resources could be used up front when needed.
The crucial importance of vaccines has only been underlined by the development and the roll out of a new vaccine for meningitis. On June 23rd 2010, PATH received approval by the WHO to launch MenAfriVac™, a vaccine developed through the Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP) to protect against life-threatening meningococcal meningitis. PATH, in collaboration with the WHO is trying to eliminate the threat of meningitis epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa.
GAVI’s fight is however not over. The roll out of the rotavirus and pneumococcal vaccine in many countries requires funds which GAVI is still lacking. GAVI estimates that the total program funding between 2010 -2015 will be around US $7 billion for existing programs and new vaccines. This means that GAVI needs US $4.3 Billion of new donor commitments. It may seem like a lot of money, yet with full funding GAVI can prevent 4.2 million deaths, mostly in children. With full funding, GAVI can immunize more than 110 million children in 47 countries with pneumococcal vaccines, 58 million children in 41 countries with rotavirus vaccines, and ensure the complete roll-out of pentavalent vaccine.
GAVI is a results oriented partnership. It offers innovation and stewardship and hope for many children of the developing countries. Vaccines really are the best buy in public health, and we need to keep GAVI and other vaccine initiatives well oiled and running!