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WHO Reports Immunization Programs Save Millions of Lives


The World Health Organization reports 3.5 million children in the world's poorest countries are alive today thanks to immunization programs funded by the GAVI Alliance between 2000 and 2008. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from GAVI headquarters in Geneva.

Between 2000 and 2008, the GAVI Alliance has spent more than $2 billion to support immunization programs in 70 of the world's poorest countries.

The GAVI Alliance is a public-private partnership that includes developing countries and donor governments as well as the World Health Organization, The U.N. Children's Fund and the World Bank. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other private philanthropists are major donors.

GAVI spokesman, Jeffrey Rowland, says new WHO data shows these programs will have succeeded in preventing nearly 3.5 million future deaths.

"This new figure represents the positive impact that GAVI is making towards reaching the Millennium Development Goals, specifically the Millennium Development Goal number four, which aims to reduce child mortality by two-thirds by 2015," he said. "Now when GAVI was founded in 2000, immunization rates in poor countries were on the decline. And, today they are in an all-time high. According to WHO projections, by the end of this year, a total of 213 million children will have been vaccinated. This is a massive increase over a few years ago."

An estimated 360 million people are chronically affected with the Hepatitis B virus.

Coordinator of WHO's Expanded Program on Immunization, Thomas Cherian, says Hepatitis B causes hepatic cancer and liver sclerosis. He says these diseases are a major cause of death in poor countries that have high cases of Hepatitis B chronic infections.

"Most of these infections are acquired in childhood, though the death may occur later on in life, a few decades later," he said. "So, immunization of infants that this vaccine prevents future deaths from these two conditions, which are sclerosis and hepatic cancer."

GAVI says vaccination against Hepatitis B alone has averted 2.5 million deaths. It calls this its single biggest success story.

More than nine million children die each year before reaching their fifth birthday. GAVI says close to one-quarter die of diseases that could be prevented with currently available or new vaccines.