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Protecting Millions of Children from Killer Diseases

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Joe DeCapua

A new plan’s been announced to immunize 240 million additional children in developing countries over the next five years.  However, the project depends on raising billions of dollars in funding.

The GAVI Alliance, a Geneva-based public private partnership, says millions of lives could be saved.  The project was announced in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, Wednesday during a meeting of the GAVI Alliance Board.

GAVI spokesperson Dan Thomas says, “Our mission is to save lives and improve people’s health in the world’s poorest countries by increasing access to immunization and health services.”

Thinking big about two big killers

Thomas says, ‘We have an ambitious target of saving four million lives in the next five years in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  And to do that, we need almost $4 billion.”

The GAVI proposal targets preventable diseases.  “We have new vaccines against the two biggest killers of children.  They tackle pneumonia and diarrhea,” he says, adding, “We’re ready to roll them out in more than 40 of the world’s poorest countries.  We have a platform in place, which is already reaching almost four out of five children with routine immunization.  And if we can get the funds we need…we can save four million lives.”

The project is partially funded at this stage.  The total cost is nearly $7 billion and some donors have already pledged $3.1 billion.  That leaves a nearly $4 billion shortfall.

“The world is in the middle of a financial crisis and we recognize that,” says Thomas, “The donor nations that have been supporting us since 2000 are all suffering from the consequences of that economic crisis.  So we’re having to work extra hard to persuade them that, if they’re going to spend money on development, the GAVI Alliance is really a very cost effective intervention and well worth the investment,” says Thomas.

The benefits

The GAVI Alliance believes there would be wide-ranging and long-term benefits if the immunization program is carried out.

“The thing about immunization is it prevents disease,” says Thomas, “It saves families an enormous amount of time and money that could otherwise be lost on medical treatment and caring for sick children.  You know, parents have to take time off work.  They spend every penny they have to keep their children alive.”

He adds, “For a few dollars you can protect children for life.”

GAVI says if it gets the full funding, it also plans to speed introduction of routine meningitis vaccination.

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