Almost £4.5bn sounds like a lot of money, but for those battling to save the lives of millions of children through vaccination, it is a small price to pay.
Earlier this week, the GAVI Alliance, formerly the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, called on the world’s governments and private foundations to pledge that amount to fund a programme it says will save the lives of between 5m and 6m children.
GAVI, a public-private global health partnership that is backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Health Organization and UNICEF, is seeking funding for its vaccination programme between 2016 and 2020, when it hopes to immunise 300m children in low-income countries from diseases such as polio, whooping cough, pneumonia, measles, tuberculosis and encephalitis.
Founded in 2000, GAVI co-ordinates the vaccine industry, private donors and health organisations to ensure children have equal access to life-saving vaccines wherever they are in the world. In that time, it has vaccinated about 440m children, saving the lives of an estimated 6m.
Britain is GAVI’s biggest donor, pledging £1.3bn up to 2015, but the group wants the government here to maintain its commitment to fighting the spread of disease. If the £4.4bn target is met, GAVI says two children every second will be reached with its vaccines for five years. It already has an additional £1.2bn in hand for 2016 to 2020.
For the 2011 to 2015 period, it has already secured £4.3bn in funding, which will support the immunisation of almost 250m children, saving an estimated 4m lives.
GAVI also negotiates with the pharmaceutical industry to reduce the cost of vaccinations – the cost of the five-in-one pentavalent vaccine, which protects against tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae B (which causes meningitis and pneumonia), has fallen by 39 per cent since 2003 to 70p per dose.
Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline announced this week that it would continue to freeze the prices for several of its vaccines in countries supported by GAVI.
Its system insists that recipient governments contribute to the purchase and delivery of vaccinations.
‘GAVI is not an endless aid programme as it requires co-financing and therefore it’s a sustainable partnership model – recipient countries must commit to build economic capacity to provide for vaccines in the long run,’ said Erin Hohlfelder, policy director of global health at the ONE Campaign, a GAVI supporter.
To coincide with GAVI’s call for donations this week, the ONE Campaign, a non-profit group against poverty and disease, has launched its Going For Goal report, in which it draws attention to the money being spent on next month’s football World Cup – and points out how a similar amount could help children worldwide.
‘When you boil it down, the World Cup is about players and countries coming together from six continents on a level playing field,’ said Hohlfelder. ‘Similarly, GAVI is about the world coming together around the critical issue of life-saving vaccines for children. GAVI finances a wide variety of immunisation against diseases including polio, measles, whooping cough, pneumonia and diarrhoea. We think of pneumonia and diarrhoea as minor manageable diseases in the West but in low-income countries they kill more children than Aids, tubercolosis and malaria combined.’
Joan Awunyo-Akaba, the founder and executive director of Future Generations International (FUGI), a non-governmental and non-profit organisation based in Ghana, has more than 40 years of experience in child immunisation, initially as a community nurse. She described how vaccination has saved lives in Ghana.
‘When I joined the ministry of health in 1976, measles claimed the lives of so many children, but in the last seven years Ghana has not had a single childhood death from measles infection,’ she said.
‘Back then if the child survived the measles infection they suffered from a terrible, terrible form of malnutrition – kwashiorkor – but now medical students in Ghana have never seen kwashiorkor, they only read about it in textbooks.’
Awunyo-Akaba fears that without the replenishment of funding for GAVI from 2016 to 2020, major gains in public health in Ghana and other low-income countries will be lost. She said: ‘I would like to say thank you to the British government and taxpayers for supporting GAVI, however, if GAVI is not supported then taxpayers’ money will be wasted and we will not be able to continue to build the mechanisms to support immunisation programs in Ghana.’
Awunyo-Akaba is a formidable advocate for childhood immunisation all over the world – it’s estimated one in five children are not reached by immunisations – including developed nations where preventable diseases are reappearing.
‘Last year, there were outbreaks of measles in both France and America and a friend of mine in America lost her two-year-old son to pneumonia,’ she said. ‘Immunisation is not only about low-income countries.’
Hohlfelder said: ‘Pockets of disease are re-emerging in the West as parents have become concerned over vaccines and misconceptions around vaccines. These have huge public health ramifications, they present an immediate health threat and threaten decades of progress. Diseases don’t need a passport, they are one plane or train ride away.’
22 May 2014 | 6:00 am – Source: metro.co.uk