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GAVI Alliance: Immunization rates reach record high in poor countries

GAVI Alliance: Immunization rates reach record high in poor countries

A record number of children in poor countries across the world are getting access to cheap and effective vaccines because of an ongoing program backed by corporations and countries, the GAVI Alliance said Friday.
The alliance, formerly known as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, was launched at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in 2000.
Backed by a US$1.5 billion (euro1.16 billion) grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and funding from 17 countries, including Norway and Germany, it has expanded to provide cheap vaccines in more than 70 countries in South America, Asia and Africa. It has committed US$2.6 billion (euro2 billion) to the program.
"We have to remember that before GAVI was created in 2000, the vaccination rate around the world was declining. It was a sad state of affairs when we started to look into this issue," Melinda Gates told reporters at a press conference. "Today, they are at an all-time high."
But her husband, Bill Gates, while positive about the results in the past six years, said more still needs to be done with expanding the program's reach and enhancing its effectiveness.
"We don't know for sure how quickly we'll be able to add new vaccines. Certainly, I'm an optimist. I believe that for a lot of things related to diarrheal disease, respiratory diseases, we will have additions," the Microsoft Corp. chairman and co-founder said.
"There's already work going on with the GAVI relating to a new monococal vaccine. There's work going that relates to a rotavirus vaccines, so certainly over the next five or 10 years, we will be adding new vaccines and the number of lives saved will go up very dramatically."
Julian Lob-Levyt, GAVI's executive secretary, said that the group's purchasing power and its large and long-term market has helped it leverage lower prices for vaccines for diseases like diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, along with Hepatitis-B and yellow fever.
That success, he said, will help GAVI as it negotiates for lower prices with drug makers worldwide for more supplies.
"For some of the new and exciting vaccines, we're prepared to subsidize fairly high prices but with a clear intention to get those prices affordable," he said.
Lob-Levyt said that since it started funding immunization efforts in developing countries, approximately 2.3 million deaths have been prevented since 2000. Some 600,000 deaths were prevented last year he said, citing estimates provided by the World Health Organization.
But despite that, he said in 2005, 28 million children in developing countries were not immunized and 2.5 million died from vaccine-preventable diseases.
WHO and UNICEF have estimated that another US$10 billion (euro7.7 billion) to US$15 billion (euro11.5 billion) will be needed for immunization programs in the next 10 years.
To help lower mortality rates, GAVI said it would commit US$500 million (euro385.2 million) starting this year to strengthen health systems in developing countries.
"This is an exciting new direction for us," said Lob-Levyt said. "Developing country leaders are telling us that in order for immunization programs to be sustained, they need greater support for basic health infrastructure."
He said the new plan would provide flexible grants aimed at recruiting and training health care workers, expanding vaccine distribution systems and providing transport and equipment for health care workers in the field.
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On the Net:
http://www.gavialliance.org/