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Former Managing Director, Innovative Finance, GAVI Alliance
I have long believed that a group of committed people can accomplish almost anything.
I saw it in my native South Africa. I have seen it in my work for the GAVI Alliance, which in just over a decade has helped immunise 326 million children and save more than 5.5 million lives. And, in Davos, Switzerland, I was privileged to have breakfast with a group of very committed people.
In the past year, a handful of visionary government and business leaders have stepped forward to create an unusual partnership that could save millions of lives over the next few years. That partnership is the GAVI Matching Fund.
Under the GAVI Matching Fund, the British government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have pledged about US$ 130 million combined (GBP 50 million and US$ 50 million, respectively) to match contributions to GAVI from corporations, foundations and other organizations, as well as from their customers, employees and business partners.
The goal – including the match – is to raise US$ 260 million for immunisation by the end of 2015, bringing us much closer to ensuring that GAVI can help immunise 225 million children and save 3.9 million lives over that period.
This programme has shone a light on an increasing number of private sector champions for global health. They range from financial services firms such as JP Morgan and the Spanish bank “la Caixa” (through its foundation), to prominent global enterprises such as Anglo American and nimble, creative foundations such as Comic Relief, Absolute Return for Kids (ARK) and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF).
Collectively, these champions are contributing their voices, skills and financial resources to the fight for child immunisation in the world’s poorest countries. This is a model that works. The GAVI Matching Fund was launched in June 2011 and in just a few months has already raised around US$ 40 million for immunisation.
This new model was an important theme that at the breakfast I attended in Davos, where the World Economic Forum is holding its annual meeting. The gathering literally was a “breakfast of champions.” There, several GAVI Matching Fund partners and other global business leaders met with Andrew Mitchell, the British Secretary of State for International Development and Bill Gates.
They spoke convincingly of how a public-private partnership can succeed, whether through Comic Relief raising funds from the general public for global health, “la Caixa” organising business partners to help fund the roll-out of vaccines in Central America, or companies offering their technologies and core business skills to save lives.
For instance, the same know-how that gets soft drinks to remote areas of Africa could help the countries that GAVI supports deliver vaccines to those areas. Or cellphone technology could be used to efficiently monitor the use of vaccines.
Even a US$ 3 million donation – matched by the British Government or the Gates Foundation – would buy enough vaccine to immunise more than 500,000 children this year against pneumococcal disease, one of the main causes of death from pneumonia. Or nearly a million children against potentially fatal diarrhoea caused by rotavirus.
The GAVI Matching Fund is an example of what can be achieved when governments, corporations, foundations and the general public work together to solve difficult problems, such as the inequity in the availability of vaccines for children living in poor countries. It represents a rare chance to be part of something guaranteed to change the lives of millions of people for the better.
It represents a new era of champions for public health.
The deadly tole of rotavirus diarrhoea on infants in Sierra Leone, where the rotavirus vaccine will be introduced to combat one of the leading childhood killers. Source: Ryan Youngblood, Doune Porter/GAVI/2011.
Not all children have the same lucky escape as Abdul, a young boy in Sierra Leone whose very life was in jeopardy only a few months ago, when I visited.
Abdul was severely dehydrated, weak from diarrhoea and barely able to move. He was suffering from rotavirus the leading cause of death due to diarrhoea in children under five. But he need not have suffered: vaccines are now available to prevent severe rotavirus disease. We made a video about Abdul’s fight to stay alive (see right of page, or click here).
In May, I witnessed the ravages of rotavirus and other vaccine-preventable diseases on children, families and communities in Sierra Leone – Abdul’s home country. It was a humbling experience and gave a renewed sense of purpose to my work for the GAVI Alliance.
GAVI’s mission is to save children’s lives and protect people’s health by increasing access to immunisation in poor countries, where infrastructure, clinics, health workers and even refrigeration to preserve vaccines are limited. I saw people in Sierra Leone so committed to children’s health that they strapped coolboxes full of vaccines to their backs and travelled by bicycle on dirt roads to reach remote villages, delivering vitamin A and micronutrients at the same time.
Health authorities have used immunisation as a foundation on which to build other basic healthcare services – healthy kids mean healthy moms, communities and societies. When I attended immunisation events at local health centers, I saw mothers also receive instruction on nutrition, hygiene and breastfeeding, often through song and dance. It was inspiring.
Thanks to GAVI and its many partners, the same vaccines that are available to children in rich nations are being rolled out across developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America faster than ever before. With sufficient funds, GAVI will be able to vaccinate more than 250 million children in the world’s poorest countries by 2015, and save an estimated four million lives.
Now, the private sector can join GAVI in its mission by helping it raise sufficient funds through a unique public-private partnership to help protect children like Abdul from preventable diseases, and by becoming part of a global coalition seeking to provide access to vaccines for all children, regardless of where they are born.
Through the GAVI Matching Fund, private companies and foundations can greatly leverage their contributions to global health. That’s because every dollar contributed to the Matching Fund by the private sector, their customers, employees and even business partners is matched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or, in the case of British companies, by the British government. They have pledged US$50 million and UK£50 million, respectively – the equivalent of US$130 million, which, if matched by private contributions, will raise US$260 million for immunisation.
The Matching Fund is a smart investment not only for global health – it is aligned with U.N. Millennium Development Goal 4: reduce by two-thirds the mortality rate of children younger than five years by 2015 – but also an opportunity to champion a global initiative alongside our world class partners.
Launched this summer, the initiative now has four private sector partners: the “la Caixa” Foundation, J.P. Morgan, AngloAmerican and Absolute Return for Kids (ARK).
The GAVI Matching Fund is an important innovation in global health financing. And it is certainly needed. Without additional resources for immunisation, a child will die every 20 seconds due to a vaccine-preventable disease. But for every $1.5 million received, for instance, GAVI could buy enough vaccines to immunise 142,000 children against pneumococcal disease in 2012, or 272,000 children against rotavirus.
The GAVI Matching Fund promotes awareness and advocacy for immunisation by engaging private sector management, employees and consumers; helps support new vaccines (we hope one for malaria is very near); and helps ensure that all children – like Abdul, who survived after being treated in a local hospital – have access to life-saving vaccines.
This is a rare chance to be part of something that is guaranteed to change the lives of millions of people for the better. If you work for a company and think it might be interested in becoming GAVI’s next corporate partner, please send an e-mail to Marian Leitner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This blog post is also featured on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation website.
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© Gavi 2015
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