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Expanding Vaccines Can Save Millions of Lives

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the GAVI Alliance say new and under-utilized vaccines can save millions of lives. But, the agencies say too many children are still dying of vaccine preventable diseases because of lack of money.

The agencies call immunization a best buy. Communications Director for the GAVI Alliance, Jeffrey Rowland, says immunization is one of the most cost-effective health interventions in terms of saving lives and managing loss of death and disability.

A Harvard University study shows immunization could provide economic returns on investment by as much as 18 percent.

The GAVI Alliance accelerates and finances vaccines in the world's poorest countries. Rowland says the organization has achieved a great deal since it was founded 10 years ago.

"We have prevented 5.4 million premature deaths," he said. "That means these children will not die of these diseases, 5.4 million and we hope to prevent 4.2 million premature deaths by keeping immunization rates high over the next five years for basic immunization and rolling out vaccines for pneumonia and rotavirus diarrhea."

GAVI says these two diseases account for 36 percent of all under-five deaths worldwide. It says new vaccines against the pneumococcal bacteria and rotavirus could save more than one million children's lives each year.

But, it warns a $4 billion funding gap threatens these and other immunization programs, some which have made enormous strides in combating deadly and crippling diseases.

For example, spokeswoman for the International Red Cross Federation, Sadia Kaenzia says health agencies are very close to eradicating polio.

"We think that it would be the biggest failure of our times if we do not go that extra mile," she said. "We have the people, we have the knowledge, the tools, but there is no funding. And, we cannot be complacent with all that has been achieved so far."

Kaenzia says the world has done the easy 80 percent, but the difficult 20 percent remains. That 20 percent, she says, includes the most inaccessible communities, the poorest of the poor. She says it includes those already suffering from complex or neglected disasters, like the long-term drought in the Horn of Africa.