Plenty to celebrate during World Immunization Week

Here at the GAVI Alliance, we’re excited to celebrate this year’s World Immunization Week 21-28 April, a WHO-led initiative which now includes every continent on the planet.

From Albania to Yemen and Fiji to Nigeria, many countries will launch immunisation campaigns, host public education events or even introduce new vaccines. This year’s theme is:  “Protect your world. Get immunised.”

In most low income countries supported by GAVI, parents hardly need to be persuaded of the benefits of immunisation, which now reaches more of their children than ever before and is saving millions of lives each year.

Delivered from factory to village health posts in mountains, valleys, deserts, and tropical jungles, these vaccines are transforming the lives of millions. Children stay healthy, go to school, and grow up fitter and stronger.  And without the need to care for sick or disabled children, parents can also lead more productive lives as well as invest more into their children. A 2005 Harvard School of Public Health study found that GAVI’s support for immunisation could yield as much as an 18 percent return on investment to countries by 2020.

For this year’s World Immunization Week, my first as GAVI’s CEO, I will travel to Ghana for the simultaneous launch of both the pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines on 26 April. These two vaccines will protect Ghanaian children against the leading causes of pneumonia and severe diarrhoea, which together account for about 20 % of Ghana’s child mortality.

The introduction of just one vaccine alone would imply an immense workload of financial planning, medical training, and upgrading a complex logistical system. So with this double launch, Ghana’s health officials are feeling twice the heat as our terrific video shows. But their ambition is based on a cool and calm calculation.

Ghana wants to achieve Millennium Development Goal 4, a two thirds reduction in child mortality by 2015, and immunisation is an effective way to reduce unnecessary deaths.

Meanwhile, the GAVI Alliance’s Board Chair, Dagfinn Høybråten, will travel to Haiti, still recovering from a catastrophic earthquake in 2010 but just about to introduce the pentavalent vaccine with GAVI’s support.

By protecting against five deadly diseases, this vaccine reduces the number of injections needed and is popular with health ministries around the world because it saves on time, money, and even trauma for the infants on the receiving end of the needles. It is a very powerful weapon in the battle against vaccine-preventable death.

Africa’s most populous country Nigeria will also introduce the pentavalent vaccine, when it begins a three-year roll-out later this month. Coming so soon after India’s pentavalent introduction, I’m excited about the prospects for child health in these two countries, which together account for the largest numbers of unimmunised children and some of the world’s highest child mortality.

With more than a year passed without a single new case of polio, India has shown the world what can be achieved with immunisation. In a country where 26.5 million children are born every year, this is an impressive success built on the hard work of all those individuals who travelled the length and breadth of the country to reach every child—often multiple times—with just two drops each of polio vaccine.

But successes in India, Nigeria, and Ghana are just the tip of the needle.

Since June last year, when donors gathered in London to commit an extra US$ 4.3 billion for GAVI’s immunisation programmes, the political momentum has been growing.

The same day as the Ghana vaccine event, the UN Foundation will launch shot@life, their advocacy campaign for global immunisation and we’re also looking forward to a US-led global summit on child survival in June.

Thanks to the support of our many donors, GAVI can continue to provide developing countries with the vaccines to save another four million lives between 2011 and 2015. That of course is the most important thing to celebrate.

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