The launch of the pneumococcal vaccine in Ethiopia

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Daniel Thornton

Daniel Thornton
Director Strategic Initiatives, GAVI Alliance

16 Oct

Excerpt from Daniel's speech to mark the launch of the pneumococcal vaccine in Ethiopia

Ethiopia pneumococcal launch

A woman and her child waits alongside many other parents for their children to receive the pneumococcal vaccine for the first time in Ethiopia. Credit: Daniel Thornton/GAVI/2011.

Thank you President of the Southern Nation, Nationalities and People Region, and Minister Tedros, Ministers, Officials, esteemed international guests, doctors, health workers, fathers, mothers, grandfathers – I was talking to a grandfather yesterday who was excited that his five month old granddaughter would receive this new vaccine, he is here today – and grandmothers.

I am proud to represent the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, or GAVI. We are here today to launch our most powerful vaccine – the pneumococcal vaccine. And we are launching in the biggest country so far – this beautiful country of Ethiopia.

I represent a small secretariat based in Geneva. But a big Alliance. I am pleased that there are so many other representatives of that Alliance here today.

The most important members of our Alliance are the countries. I visited Ethiopia once before, twenty years ago, as a young diplomat. The country has made a lot of progress. A few weeks ago I met Minister Tedros in New York at an event hosted by Raj Shah of USAID and Andrew Mitchell of DFID to celebrate examples of successful progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals. GAVI and Ethiopia were both presented as examples of that success.

A decade ago in this country two hundred children for every 1000 died before their fifth birthday. That rate has fallen by more than half now, and as Minister Tedros said earlier, there has been dramatic recent progress. That is because Ethiopia has been building its health system. As Minister Tedros was saying - a few years ago, 300 trainee doctors entered medical school, this year 3000 will enter school. Yesterday I met some health extension workers who were committed to introducing this new vaccine. Ethiopia has successfully spread the benefits of immunisation. That includes pentavalent vaccine, which protects against five diseases, including a form of pneumonia, which is funded by GAVI. It also includes measles, and polio vaccine, which has helped to keep Ethiopia free of polio.

But as the figure I have quoted indicates, and as we will be discussing during this annual review meeting, there is a lot more to do. 100,000 children die each year from pneumonia in Ethiopia. Pneumococcal disease accounts for more than half of those deaths, as well as causing meningitis and sepsis. With the vaccine that we are launching today we can protect children against these terrible diseases.

And what we are doing here today in Ethiopia is part of a global story. Every twenty seconds a child dies of pneumonia somewhere in the world. Pneumonia is the biggest killer of children before their fifth birthday. Building upon what Ethiopia is doing here today, we are planning to introduce this vaccine in forty countries up to 2015, which can save 700,000 children’s lives every year.

Now, this small secretariat in Geneva can’t do this on its own. We need a big Alliance. And I am pleased that today we have a representative from UNICEF, which buys the vaccine and supports its introduction in countries. And WHO which provides scientific expertise and advice here in countries. These partners have been working with the government to strengthen treatment of pneumonia, which needs to go hand in hand with the introduction of the vaccine. Civil society organisations are represented here today who work in communities that could not otherwise be reached. And the vaccine companies, without which there would be no vaccines.

GAVI is a funding mechanism; without funds it has no purpose. So I am not going to forget GAVI’s generous donors. The pneumococcal vaccine has been funded under a special mechanism called the Advance Market Commitment. Italy, the UK, Canada, Russia, Norway and the Gates Foundation have provided $1.5bn so that vaccines companies have the confidence to invest in large scale production for developing countries. In London in June the Big Alliance met – with PMs David Cameron and Jens Stoltenberg and also with Bill Gates, who together with our other donors raised an additional $4.3bn. We are grateful to all of them and all of GAVI’s donors, all of them part of the big Alliance. Their generosity has meant that Ethiopia is receiving the vaccine very soon after children in rich countries receive it.

The scale of the numbers I have mentioned today are hard to imagine. More than 50,000 children dying each year here in this country – deaths which can be prevented by this new vaccine. But the mothers, and fathers, and grandparents here today know what these figures mean.

My children benefited from the vaccines they needed. I think children everywhere should get the vaccines they need. Together in this Big Alliance, starting today in this hospital this great work has begun to save children’s lives.


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