Vaccines for all kids

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Vaccines for all kids

Anyone who has seen a young child battling severe pneumonia, gasping for air as they fight for life, will know the utter horror of the situation.

Too many parents living in remote parts of developing countries have experienced the frantic desperation of knowing their child requires urgent medical care but that the nearest clinic or hospital is tens or even hundreds of miles away.

I am thankful that, as an Australian, I was able to take my children to be vaccinated when they were babies. I remember feeling the same reassurance I saw on the faces of women I met in Nairobi, Kenya, who had walked many miles in baking heat to bring their children to be vaccinated against pneumococcal disease.

We all know that prevention is better than cure. Yet it is estimated that more than 1.5 million children will die this year from diseases that could be prevented with basic childhood vaccines. The overwhelming majority of these deaths will occur in developing countries. Fathers and mothers will lose sons and daughters. Countries will lose the people who should have helped shape their futures.

Thankfully, things are changing. The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization is an innovative partnership between the public sector - UNICEF, the World Health Organization, donor and recipient governments - and private sector that uses donor funding to help developing countries introduce vaccines to combat major childhood killers such as pneumonia. This year, we are on course to support more than 50 vaccine introductions.

GAVI’s goal is for children everywhere to be protected against preventable diseases. As part of our work in 73 of the world’s poorest countries, GAVI helps to provide vaccines for children living in places where they often miss out on support from the international community. For example, since 2002, GAVI has supplied vaccines and cash support worth a total of $21.4 million to North Korea, including the five-in-one pentavalent vaccine in 2012.

Our support is helping to ensure that North Korean children are protected from potentially fatal childhood diseases including diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae type B. We have also supported measles vaccinations campaigns in the country.

The success achieved in immunizing children in North Korea is extremely important, but just as remarkable is the fact that the government in Pyongyang has made a financial contribution to every dose of vaccine it has received.

Sustainability is at the heart of the GAVI model. To achieve sustainability it is absolutely crucial that countries have ownership over their immunization programs. As part of their agreements with GAVI, countries take on some financial responsibility for the vaccines they receive as part of our co-financing policy, which requires them to make a contribution towards every vaccine dose.

The co-financing arrangement is also a key tool to helping countries prepare to graduate from GAVI support. As a country’s gross national income per capita increases, so does the amount they contribute towards their vaccine supply. Once their GNI, as defined by the World Bank, exceeds an agreed threshold, GAVI support is gradually withdrawn until a country is covering the cost of its vaccine programs entirely from its national budget.

This sense of responsibility is central to GAVI’s success. On the one side, implementing countries are taking responsibility for their own vaccine programs with GAVI support and on the other, donor countries are standing by their commitments to children living in the most difficult circumstances. Our relationships with donor countries go beyond financial pledges.

GAVI has strong working relations in the Republic of Korea, with the government, vaccine manufacturers and academic institutions. We were delighted when the government of Korea decided to support the GAVI mission in 2010 by becoming a donor for the first time. GAVI purchases vaccines from two Korean suppliers, LG Life Sciences and Berna Biotech through a competitive tender process.

We are also excited by our relationships with a Korea-based research institute and with Korean researchers. The International Vaccine Institute will hold its board meeting at GAVI’s headquarters in Geneva later this year. We have also recently reached an agreement with the Institute of International Education at Kyung Hee University for their support in advocating and communicating the global value of vaccines.

I visited Korea last month for talks with senior officials about how the government might best support GAVI in the future. The government’s commitment to helping the world’s poorest people through a tripling of the national aid budget should be applauded, and my sincere hope is that Korea will see the value of increasing its contributions to GAVI in proportion with that rise.

The effectiveness of development spending and a focus on innovative use of new technologies are key priorities for Korean aid. GAVI shares these aims, and I hope we can work even more closely in the coming years to help bring the power of vaccines to all children, no matter where they live.

*The author is deputy CEO of the GAVI Alliance.

by Helen Evans
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