“The most transformative technology at our disposal, vaccines ensure protection against killer diseases whether children are immunized by pediatricians in the U.S. or by health workers in rural clinics in Africa,” said USAID Administrator Dr. Raj Shah.
Yet, vaccine-preventable diseases are still estimated to cause more than 2 million deaths every year in developing countries. The global effort to expand the coverage of existing vaccines and introduce new vaccines against pneumonia and diarrhea got a powerful shot in the arm Monday.
At a first-ever pledging conference for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), donors committed US$ 4.3 billion, exceeding the $3.7 billion target. The funding will immunize more than 250 million of the world's poorest children against life-threatening diseases by 2015, and prevent more than four million premature deaths.
Dr. Shah announced a $450 million commitment from the United States over three years (subject to Congressional appropriation). With the pledge, the United States surpassed $1 billion in commitments to GAVI for the purchase of vaccines.
GAVI is a public-private global health partnership, created in 2000, to save children's lives and protect people's health by increasing access to immunization in the world's poorest countries. The alliance funds childhood vaccines against diseases such as pneumococcal pneumonia, Haemophilus influenzae type b, or Hib disease, diphtheria, pertussis or whooping cough, meningitis, yellow fever, tetanus, and rotavirus.
Because infectious disease knows no borders, investment in this area is also one of the most cost effective ways to protect the global community from outbreaks that take an economic and physical toll on previously uninfected populations. In February, the largest outbreak of measles in the United States this year was linked to an unvaccinated child who recently traveled to Kenya. The cost in lives and money spent to contain and prevent further infection caused an unnecessary and avoidable burden on local health systems.
The United States has long recognized the moral imperative and the inherent economic value of vaccines and immunization, which is why we played a lead role in founding and supporting GAVI.
The first-ever pledging meeting convened prime ministers, ministers and high-level officials from donor and developing countries, leaders of UN Agencies, CEOs from private companies and senior civil society officials and philanthropist Bill Gates.
Dr. Shah also offered to organize a high-level meeting in a year's time in Washington, D.C., so GAVI, donors and all immunization partners can review progress and impact.
At the conference, it was announced that a record 50 GAVI eligible countries have applied for vaccine funding from the Alliance in this latest application round. The number of countries is nearly double the previous record in 2007 when 27 countries requested support to introduce new or underused vaccines.
The increased demand highlights how developing countries are increasingly prepared to expand routine immunization programs and introduce new vaccines to save the lives of children and protect against illness and disability.
In studies in the Health Affairs and The Lancet journals, public health experts and scientists projected 6.4 million child deaths could be prevented in the next decade, which could save $6.2-billion in treatment costs and $145-billion in lost productivity if vaccine delivery were expanded in 72 low- and middle-income countries.
Editor's Note: This entry first appeared on the USAID Impact Blog.