Are we halfway there on immunisation?

31 Oct 2013

Megan Wilson-Jones, Health Advocacy Officer at RESULTS UK talks about the GAVI Midterm Review this week. 

Here in the UK we very rarely think about vaccines other than when we are lucky enough to be traveling to an exotic location for a holiday or even work. It is only at this point we feel a sudden need to ensure we are up-to-date with vaccines against the weird, unpronounceable and somewhat terrifying diseases that lurk in these locations. This view of vaccines stems from the fact that almost all of us take for granted the routine childhood immunizations we received when we were young and how they have been protecting us ever since. Unfortunately this is not the reality for 22 million children (1 in 5 children) around the world who are unable to access the most basic vaccines that can save their lives. The majority of these children are among the poorest in society and those who would benefit the most from these vaccines.

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This week is an important time to think about immunisations as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI) and its partners, including WHO, UNICEF, the World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, civil society and the private sector, gathered in Stockholm for the GAVI Mid-Term Review. GAVI is a public-private partnership with a mission of saving children’s lives and protecting people’s health by increasing access to immunisation in the poorest countries. Since it was established in 2000, GAVI has been instrumental in raising the global coverage rates of routine vaccinations from 73% to 83% seen today.

Widely recognised as one of the most cost-effective and high-impact interventions in public health, vaccines are critical to preventing death and disease in children and adults. Put simply, vaccines are weakened or dead versions of a disease that when introduced into the body they cause an immune response (the body’s natural defense mechanism), allowing it to protect itself from future disease based on “memory”. Of the millions of children dying every year, approximately 1.5 million of these deaths could be prevented by vaccines. This is particularly evident in the case of pneumonia and diarrhoea – two of the leading causes of death in children, responsible for 26% of all under-5 deaths. GAVI has been critical in driving the scale-up of newer vaccines against these killer diseases in developing countries.

The meeting in Stockholm represents the half-way point in GAVI’s 2011-2015 strategy and provides an opportunity to assess progress and identify challenges facing the organisation in meeting its mission. Results published ahead of the meeting show that GAVI is on-track to meet its target of immunising an additional 243 million children between 2011 and 2015. In doing so, GAVI will contribute to averting almost 4 million lives during this time. GAVI’s unique public-private partnership model allows for collaboration across actors and sectors to increase access to vaccines for the world’s poorest children. However progress depends on a commitment from all stakeholders, including financial support from donors. The UK is a key donor to GAVI having committed £814 million during the 2011 replenishment and these results demonstrate the UK taxpayer is helping to save children’s lives every day. The infographic produced by the ACTION Global Health Partnership summarises progress of donors around the world.

At this halfway point it is also important to take the time to recognise the challenges going forward and how GAVI can work to ensure the maximum number of children that can be reached with this funding. A new report by Save the Children launched on the eve of the GAVI Mid-Term Review indicates that while significant progress has been achieved, increased efforts are needed to ensure equitable access to vaccines, along with increasing GAVI’s support to strengthen existing health systems. It is therefore clear that despite good progress, the job is not nearly halfway done when 22 million children are still unable to benefit from life-saving vaccines.

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RESULTS UK is a charity registered as RESULTS Education in England and Wales (1015286), a company limited by guarantee (2761858), and a charity registered in Scotland (SC041481).