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Donors Pledge More than $4 Billion for Child Immunizations

  • Joe DeCapua

A Sierra Leonean maternal and child health aide administers a vaccine to a child in the village of Sembehun, outside the town of Bo, in the southeast region of the West African country, May 2011

A Sierra Leonean maternal and child health aide administers a vaccine to a child in the village of Sembehun, outside the town of Bo, in the southeast region of the West African country, May 2011

Major funding was announced Monday to greatly expand childhood immunization programs in developing countries. The more than $4 billion commitment came at a donors’ meeting in London hosted by the British and Liberian governments and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

More than asked for

The commitment surpasses the goal of vaccine proponents to raise $3.7 billion in London.

“This means that we are going to be able to immunize over 250 million between now and 2015. We’re going to be able to save four million lives thanks to the donor support that’s come through today,” said Jeffrey Rowland, chief spokesman for the GAVI Alliance, a Geneva-based public-private partnership dedicated to improving health in poor countries.

GAVI said a record 50 countries had applied for vaccine funding during its latest application round - nearly double the figure in 2007.

Immunizations will be given against common but life threatening diseases. These include diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, influenza and hepatitis B, as well as pneumonia and rotavirus diarrhea, which are two of the biggest killers of children.

Many of those diseases are rarely found in wealthier nations.

Bill Gates said, “For the first time in history, children in developing countries will receive the same vaccines against diarrhea and pneumonia as children in rich countries.”

Tight budgets

The commitment by donors comes amid tight economic times as nations recover from the global recession.

“That’s the incredible thing,” said Rowland. “The international community really became quite galvanized around this issue of how do we improve… the global health of the world’s children. What they recognize is that vaccines are a cost effective, high return on investment. What you’re doing with a vaccine is you’re protecting a child’s health, so you’re not having to treat that child in a hospital.”

Preventing diseases, he said, leads to long-term savings on many levels.

The GAVI Alliance has been operating for 10 years. The latest funding will allow current programs to continue, as well as expand into more countries.

“We’ve already immunized over 288 million children and saved five million lives,” Rowland said. “What we want to do now and what we hope to do with the funding that we received today is to save another four million in the next five years.”

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said, “Every 20 seconds, a child still dies of a vaccine-preventable disease. There’s more work to be done.”

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