GENEVA — The GAVI alliance - a public-private global health partnership previously known as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization - has announced it is on track to immunize a quarter of a billion children against killer diseases by 2015. The organization said nearly four million children’s lives will be saved thanks to these additional vaccinations.
GAVI said it is reaching record numbers of children with life-saving vaccines. It said more countries than ever are introducing new vaccines, averting many deaths and improving the health and wellbeing of millions of people.
Pneumonia and diarrhea are the two biggest child killers in the world. The price of the pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines, which protect against these illnesses, has gone down dramatically, making them affordable for children in developing countries.
GAVI introduced pentavalent vaccines in 2001 with the aim of reaching all 73 GAVI-eligible countries by 2014. These vaccines offer protection against five diseases - diptheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis, and haemophilus influenzae type b.
GAVI chief executive officer Seth Berkley said the widespread use of these vaccines in the poorer countries is an essential step towards achieving the Millennium Development Goal of reducing the under-5 mortality rate by two-thirds by 2015. He said pentavalent vaccines now are available in 72 of the 73 GAVI countries.
“The last country which will have this vaccine rolled out is Southern Sudan, which will be rolled out in the first quarter of next year. Of course, Southern Sudan was not a country when GAVI began the roll-out of this vaccine, so this vaccine is now becoming the normal vaccine in the world and that is, for us, a big deal,” said Berkley.
Closing the rich-poor gap
GAVI’s progress report also finds the immunization gap between rich and poor countries is closing. For example, it noted in the Kilifi district of Kenya, the number of cases of pneumococcal disease has gone down from 38 to zero cases in the three years since the launch of the PCV (pneumococcal) vaccine. It said similar effects have been obtained with the meningitis and haemophilus influenzae type b vaccines.
Despite these successes, Dr. Berkley said challenges remain in a number of fragile countries. For example, he tells VOA some 22 million children are not being fully immunized against diptheria, pertussis and tetanus. The largest number is in India, followed by Nigeria and Ethiopia.
In these fragile countries, he said it is important to improve the reliability of supply chains, improve in-country data collection, and adopt tailored approaches toward immunization.
“So, instead of having the same mechanism for every country, we work with different countries in different ways. So, Afghanistan, for example, has made a decision that it would use non-governmental organizations to do most of its distribution. So, the government then contracts out the work that GAVI does in the supply of vaccines…But, our goal at the end is to try and work with each country and help them. During the recent disturbances in Mali, for example, we worked very hard to make sure that vaccines kept going during that period, and we were able to do that,” said Berkley.
Berkley added that vaccines are widely recognized as one of the most-cost effective public health tools, providing the best possible protection against vaccine-preventable diseases. He said that means every child must have access to all 11 of the vaccines the World Health Organization recommends.
GAVI said it will cost the agency $7.6 billion to immunize an additional quarter of a billion children by 2015.