Posted by: davidjolson | 05/18/2011

Making this “the decade of vaccines”

This guest blog was written by Helen Evans, interim chief executive of the GAVI Alliance.

GENEVA — I am Helen Evans, the interim chief executive of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, and our mission is to save children’s lives and protect people’s health by increasing access to immunisation in poor countries.

Helen Evans

Right now we are in the middle of the World Health Assembly here in Geneva, which governs the World Health Organization.  As the Assembly debates the biggest global health issues, I am pleased that immunisation is on the agenda.

This is a very exciting time to be involved with immunisation. For the first time, we have affordable and appropriate vaccines that help to tackle the biggest killers of children – pneumonia and diarrhoea.

I was recently in Nicaragua and Kenya to see the pneumococcal vaccine – which protects against the most deadly form of pneumonia — introduced into the routine immunisation programmes.  Most satisfying of all was to see the women queuing up at the health clinics to have their babies vaccinated against this deadly disease. If we can roll this powerful vaccine out across the developing world we predict this vaccine alone could save as many as seven million lives by 2030.

Later this year, Sudan will be the first African country to introduce the rotavirus vaccine, which protects against a severe form of diarrhoea.

And late last year, I was in Burkina Faso for the launch of a new meningitis A vaccine that we expect will eliminate the majority of Africa’s terrifying meningitis epidemics.

Tackling these diseases is not only a moral issue, it also has an economic impact.  Good health means families spend less money on medical treatment, less time out from work, and healthy children can take better advantage of education.  And immunisation is a highly cost-effective way of protecting people’s health.  A few years ago, a study in Burkina Faso found that a single case of meningitis A can cost almost US $ 100 to treat, as much as three months’ average income. The new vaccine costs less than US $ 0.50, and provides life-long protection.

At GAVI, we spend a lot of time thinking about the economics of immunisation and ways to make it even more cost-effective.

We want to see vibrant, competitive markets for vaccines and to see vaccine prices come down further.

And we are using innovative financial methods such as the bond markets and long-term contracts with vaccine makers to get the affordable and appropriate vaccines to the people that need them most.

On 13 June, a pledging conference will take place in London, aiming to raise an additional US $ 3.7 billion up to 2015 to roll out these powerful new vaccines, immunise 243 million children, and prevent four million deaths in the poorest countries of the world.

It was great to hear WHO Director General Dr Margaret Chan passionately calling on the World Health Assembly to support the pledging conference.  And Bill Gates is also in Geneva, speaking up for immunisation and how we can make the next ten years a “Decade of Vaccines.”

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