[Viewpoint]Help save lives in developing countriesAs the world’s economy becomes more globalized, poor people in developing countries are being left behind. Nowhere are the disparities more stark than in health conditions, principally regarding infectious diseases. Against this backdrop is some good news: Vaccines have repeatedly been demonstrated to have the most impact and to be the most cost-effective preventive tools for the control of infectious diseases.
The recently licensed new vaccines against rotavirus, pneumococcal and human papilloma virus infections, causes of nearly 2 million deaths per year, bear witness to an ongoing revolution in our ability to develop new vaccines.
However, the development of a new vaccine is very costly and time-consuming, costing up to $800 million and usually taking 12-16 years. This means most new vaccines are well beyond the means of the world’s poorest countries. As a result, the world’s wealthy countries must bear increasing financial responsibility.
In 2000, the GAVI Alliance was created to help close this gap.
The GAVI Alliance is a voluntary coalition between the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other organizations involved with vaccines for developing countries. Its financial arm, the Vaccine Fund, has provided major funding to supply basic vaccines for infants in developing countries and has begun to fund research on newer vaccines.
Recently, the Vaccine Fund was invigorated by the International Financing Facility for Immunization (IFFIM), whereby eight countries ― Brazil, France, Italy, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom ― have guaranteed public bonds to raise money for GAVI’s activities. This is a welcome development for which the sponsoring countries should be commended.
In the Feb. 17 issue of the JoongAng Daily, the ambassadors to Korea of countries sponsoring the IFFIM urged the government of the Republic of Korea to participate in the program, citing Korea’s growing wealth and the help that Korea received from the world following the Korean War.
As a member of the board of the GAVI Alliance, I fully endorse the ambassadors’ appeal.
The resources of GAVI, while growing, are still not adequate to realize the dream that every child in the world, no matter how poor, will receive all of the needed vaccines. At the same time, I believe it is important to cite an outstanding example of Korea’s ongoing support for vaccines for children in developing countries.
The International Vaccine Institute (IVI), which is hosted by Korea, is the world’s only international organization devoted exclusively to research on new vaccines for children in developing countries.
Thirty-nine countries and the World Health Organization have signed the IVI’s charter, including three of the countries that supported the IFFIM (Brazil, Spain and Sweden). The IVI began as an initiative of the United Nations. Korea offered to host and help support the IVI to help repay the world for all the help that Korea received in the difficult years following the Korean War.
In the 10 years since its founding, the IVI, now a freestanding international organization, has made major contributions to global health. The IVI is developing new vaccines in its laboratories and is accelerating introduction of new vaccines by conducting research in 22 developing countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Currently, the IVI is working on new vaccines against diarrhea, meningitis, pneumonia, dengue and Japanese encephalitis ― diseases that annually claim the lives of more than 3 million children living in the developing world. And the IVI is now beginning work devoted to vaccines for North Korean children.
The IVI and the GAVI Alliance are entirely complementary. GAVI is a voluntary alliance without the in-house staff or technical expertise to carry out its many programs of vaccine delivery and research. GAVI must rely on its partners in the alliance for this needed manpower and technical expertise. The IVI is a partner in the GAVI alliance, and its research and technical assistance for developing countries are designed to support GAVI’s programs.
Korea has been a generous donor to the IVI, and the Blue House has supported the IVI since its inception. Korea’s first lady, Mrs. Kwon Yang-suk, currently serves as honorary president of the Korea Support Committee for the IVI.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has also provided substantial support for IVI’s programs. Of IVI’s signatory countries, both Sweden and Kuwait have become regular donors. With support from more of the world’s countries, the IVI’s important work could be extended to vaccines against other diseases and to more of the world’s poorest countries.
In the spirit of the saying that “a rising tide lifts all boats” and in view of the importance of IVI’s work to GAVI’s mission, I would urge not only that Korea support the IFFIM, but also that other countries consider joining Korea in its support of the IVI.
*The writer is director general of the International Vaccine Institute and a member of the Board of the GAVI Alliance.
by John D. Clemens