The power of vaccines

As CEO of the GAVI Alliance, I am coming to Davos to talk about the challenges and opportunities of public-private partnerships, with an emphasis on innovative financing. The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting is the perfect place for a dialogue that brings together industry, civil society, UN agencies and countries around a shared response to the challenge of protecting children against vaccine preventable illness. In 2000, the Forum acted as midwife to the birth of GAVI and since then we have supported collaboration with a singular focus: giving children in developing countries the same protection from vaccines that children in developed countries receive.

In an increasingly complex world, we have a simple and bold vision that all children should have the opportunity to grow up healthy. The Annual Meeting 2013 theme of Dynamic Resilience challenges participants to move beyond simple solutions to strategic collaboration and new methods to create a more just and sustainable future for all.

This week, Forum participants will have the opportunity to consider global challenges, including the Millennium Development Goals. In the past, global goals have tended to be oriented around diseases as a proxy for immunization rates. I believe that the global community should now move to the idea of a “Fully Immunized Child”, which means measuring how many children have received all of the vaccines recommended by the Word Health Organization for global use that they need to keep them safe.

The pathway to a more sustainable future for all children must include access to the basic building blocks of good health, including nutrition, water and immunizations. To achieve this goal, business, governments and civil society will need to work together and find new and innovative ways to deliver vaccines equitably to all children and to measure that delivery. At GAVI, we take measurement seriously. It is the only way that we will ultimately help each country deliver on the goal of equity between and within countries.

Since 2000, in collaboration with our business, government, UN and civil society partners (many of whom are participants at the World Economic Forum), GAVI has helped to prevent more than 5.5 million deaths in the world’s poorest countries, and committed US$ 7.2 billion to new and underused vaccines and to strengthening health systems. We have added new vaccines that target the two largest killers of children – pneumonia and diarrhoea – and are now rolling out our second vaccine against HPV, which causes cervical cancer and kills 275,000 women a year. Yet, we estimate that 22 million children still lack access to vaccines, so we have our work cut out for us.

At Davos, I will be co-hosting a breakfast with Bill Gates to announce funding and partnerships made possible through the GAVI Matching Fund. The Fund is an innovative finance mechanism that matches contributions from companies, foundations, their customers, employees and business partners. The Fund also provides a setting for innovations in collaboration and the delivery of technical expertise to our shared mission of increasing access to vaccines for all children.

I have a passion and a sense of urgency about our mission because I know that vaccines offer an incredible return on investment, and that a vaccine dividend can be measured in lives improved and lives saved.

Last week GAVI convened a group of experts to examine the evidence on the value of vaccines. We knew that vaccines prevent sickness and death. But there’s also great evidence that being vaccinated helps people in many ways throughout their lives – building their health and their resilience. Children who are healthy – and have adequate nutrition – are much more likely to attend school. People who finish school, and do well, have higher earning potential in their adult lives. GAVI’s hope is that these healthy young people will enter the workforce and build the vibrant global economy of the future.

I am optimistic about the future because the evidence is clear about the economic impact of immunization. If parents don’t have to spend money on their children’s healthcare, they can use it for other purposes. If they don’t need to spend the money on health, they can spend or invest the money, which leads to economic growth in local communities and the country more broadly.

Healthy children are resilient children, and immunization is a fundamental building block for health. And the power of vaccines means that we can also target not only acute infectious diseases but also chronic infections that create chronic disease burdens that are so difficult to manage. At GAVI, we are committed to collaboration and partnership – working with business, governments, the UN and civil society to see more and more of the world’s children (and adults) fully immunized, wherever they live.

This blog post also appears on forumblog.org.

Op-Ed in the International Herald Tribune: Stick with the science

Government representatives are meeting in Geneva this week to decide whether to introduce a global ban on mercury that could include thiomersal, a mercury-based preservative that has been used in some vaccine manufacturing since the 1930s to prevent bacterial or fungal contamination of multidose vials of vaccine….

Despite the ominous connotations of mercury, the decision should, in theory, be a no-brainer: The scientific and medical consensus is that thiomersal poses no human health risk, and that rather than saving lives, a ban would put millions of the world’s poorest children at risk of deadly diseases by disrupting vaccination programs.

Read the full article in the International Herald Tribune

Private Eyes for Global Health

One of the great things about visiting Japan for the IMF/WB meetings is that I will have a chance to talk about the contribution the Japanese people have made to immunization.

The Japanese people have become the world’s strongest supporters of “vaccine bonds” that help support GAVI’s work.

For the last six years, they have been buying bonds sold by the International Finance Facility for Immunisation (IFFIm), and the money they invest has been used by GAVI to buy vaccines for the poorest countries in the world. In all, the Japanese have purchased the equivalent of nearly US$ 2 billion in IFFIm vaccine bonds since 2006.

These everyday investors have helped protect millions of children against deadly diseases, including pneumonia, rotavirus, polio, measles, yellow fever and hepatitis. It is a powerful form of impact investing made possible through partnership with more than 20 local financial institutions in Japan, through underwriters such as Daiwa, J.P. Morgan, HSBC and Mitsubishi.

IFFIm is just one important part of a larger movement of the private sector toward supporting global health and development as well as the work of the World Bank (IFFIm’s treasury manager) and IMF. Companies are coming to realize that development aid is a collaborative process that benefits everyone – and everyone must be involved. This includes traditional government aid, of course, which remains the most important single source of funding, but also private citizens like those in Japan, companies, foundations and developing countries themselves.

Vaccines – for just a few dollars a dose – are one of the most cost-effective ways of improving living standards, health and the global economy. A child who has been vaccinated lives longer, has fewer illnesses and thereby reduces the economic strain on poor families. We also know that birth rates fall when parents are confident that their children will survive to adulthood. These factors, in turn, lead to greater educational opportunities and a more productive workforce, stronger economy and political and economic stability.

Companies have thereby come to realize that development aid is a collaborative process that benefits everyone – and everyone must be involved. This includes traditional government aid, of course, which remains the most important single source of funding, but also private citizens like those in Japan, companies, foundations and developing countries themselves.

One of the key reasons I am in Tokyo is to participate in a GAVI event on co-financing, where finance ministers and development experts will discuss the economic importance of vaccines and the importance of developing country participation.

GAVI’s business model, in fact, requires that recipient countries contribute at an appropriate level toward the cost of the vaccines they receive. This ensures that immunization programs are sustained after GAVI’s financial support ends.

To help them get there, GAVI has begun to further engage the private sector, and they are responding. Under the GAVI Matching Fund, the UK government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have pledged about US$ 130 million combined to match contributions from corporations, foundations, their customers, employees and business partners. To date, seven companies and foundations have become partners: Anglo American, ARK Foundation, Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, Comic Relief, J.P. Morgan, “la Caixa” Foundation and LDS Charities, raising US$ 52.4 million over the past year, with the match.

In addition, corporations can share their business competencies to help solve supply chain and logistics management issues, develop more efficient cold storage and create information systems for immunization programs.

The result of all these innovations is a new world of global health development, very different than what we have seen previously at World Bank-IMF meetings. Consider: Funding from IFFIm is being used to purchase vaccines co-financed by recipient and donor countries and delivered through a supply chain aided by corporations.

This is a remarkable development, the kind of collaboration that can enable us not only to get more resources, but use those resources more effectively in years to come.

Giving Children Everywhere a Shot@Life

From Atlanta to Accra, today is a day to celebrate.

In Atlanta, Shot@Life is launching its national campaign to engage Americans in the critical effort to reduce the number of preventable deaths of children around the world.

shotatlife

In Accra, where I’ll be today, that work is happening on the ground. Ghana is first of the countries GAVI supports, the 73 poorest countries in the world, to simultaneously roll out pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines. These two vaccines protect children against the biggest vaccine-preventable killers of children, diarrhoea and pneumonia, which together kill nearly one million children every year. Both of these efforts are critically important if we’re going to reach millions more children with life-saving vaccines.

Last September I had the pleasure of joining Shot@Life in New York when the campaign was first introduced.  I’m inspired by what I’ve seen since then. Champions ranging from mom bloggers to an eighth grader who led a fundraising effort at his school have turned Shot@Life into a movement.

How can you add your voice to this movement? By supporting the launch, where parents and children can learn about the campaign through interactive exhibits, participating in one of the grassroots events being held around the country, and giving your ongoing support to the campaign.

Shot@Life’s national launch and the rollout in Ghana fall during World Immunization Week, a WHO-led celebration from April 21 to 28.  Many countries will be launching immunisation campaigns, hosting public education events, or even introducing new vaccines. This year’s theme is: “Protect your world. Get immunized.”

Shot@Life delivers that message powerfully by linking Americans with worldwide efforts to provide vaccines and expand immunisation. In most countries where GAVI works, families hardly need to be convinced of the benefits of immunisation, which now reaches more children than ever before.

For the first time, we’re supporting countries to apply for vaccines against human papillomavirus (HPV) and measles-rubella, which join our existing portfolio of yellow fever, meningitis A, measles second dose, pentavalent, pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines.

When one out of five children still don’t receive the routine vaccines they need, we at GAVI spend plenty of time thinking about how best to reach this fifth child. We’re exploring new ways to reward countries for increased immunisation coverage, and looking at strategies for countries in conflict.

After one year without a new case of polio, India has shown the world that immunisation can reach every child. In a country where 26.5 million children were born last year, some of them nomadic and some not even registered, vaccinators travelled up and down the country looking to reach them all with two drops of polio vaccine. It is an extraordinary success.

Take a moment this week, no matter where you are, and help ensure that children all over the world have a Shot@Life.

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.