GAVI urges donors to tackle biggest child killers

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Progress Report launch marks Day of the African Child

Child waving progress report 2009 front

GAVI/2010/Ricci Shryock

Geneva, 16 June 2010 - Marking the Day of the African Child, the GAVI Alliance is launching its 10th anniversary Progress Report that lays out the achievements of developing countries in saving children's lives through immunisation.

Immunisation coverage rates in the world's poor countries have reached an all-time high of nearly 80% since GAVI was created in 2000 and Alliance members are determined to build on their success so far to tackle the two biggest killers of African children: pneumonia and diarrhoea.

Of the 20 countries in the world with the highest child mortality rates, 19 are in Africa. A baby born in sub-Saharan Africa is 24 times more likely to die before reaching his or her fifth birthday than a child born in Europe.

Our donors have remained committed in 2009 despite the economic downturn because they clearly see the value of immunisation and health system strengthening.

Julian Lob-Levyt, CEO, GAVI Alliance

Valuable investment

"In a resource-constrained environment, donors will clearly want to focus on cost-effective, evidence-based interventions like immunisation. Our donors have remained committed in 2009 despite the economic downturn because they clearly see the value of immunisation and health system strengthening," said Julian Lob-Levyt, CEO of the GAVI Alliance.

"But we must do more. There are new vaccines that can dramatically reduce deaths and illness from pneumonia and diarrhoea and developing countries are clamoring for them. We urgently need an additional $2.6 billion to roll out these vaccines. If we do not, children will die in large numbers unnecessarily."

If fully funded, GAVI can help developing countries immunise more than 240 million children and prevent some four million deaths by 2015, including one million from pneumococcus and rotavirus, the two main causes of pneumonia and diarrhoea, respectively. GAVI's sustained support for routine childhood vaccination programmes and strong health systems is an important driver of this impact. Of the 13 countries that have already been approved to receive GAVI funding for pneumococcal vaccines, nine are in Africa.

Africa's biggest killer

Over half of the world's childhood pneumococcal deaths occur in Africa. Pneumonia, the most common form of serious pneumococcal disease, is the leading infectious killer of children in Africa and worldwide; rotavirus is the leading cause of acute diarrhoea. Together these infections kill some 1.3 million children each year.

Over half of the world's childhood pneumococcal deaths occur in Africa and pneumococcal disease is responsible for one of every 10 deaths in African children under the age of five. Debilitating lifelong complications -- such as deafness, seizures, mental retardation and motor impairment - occur in approximately one quarter of African children who survive pneumococcal meningitis.

Children with HIV/AIDS are up to 40 times more likely to contract pneumococcal disease than HIV-negative children, and may be more likely to contract antibiotic-resistant strains of the disease.

Rotavirus is responsible for about 40% of all hospital admissions due to diarrhoea among children under five worldwide. Africa and South Asia, where access to health care is often limited, are home to more than 80% of the children that die from diarrhoea.

"As we commemorate the Day of the African Child today, we must remember that one-third of all children who die before reaching their fifth birthday, succumb to pneumonia and diarrhoea. These deaths are easily preventable," said Rwanda's Health Minister, Dr Richard Sezibera.

"In April 2009, Rwanda became the first developing country to routinely vaccinate  children against pneumococcal disease and we are already noticing the benefits," he added. "Immunisation is such a cost-effective and proven method to protect children for life and I urge donors to increase their commitment so more countries can strengthen their health systems and benefit from new vaccines."

Funding challenge for immunisation

In order to respond to a dramatic increase in country demand for new and existing vaccines, fundraising has become a priority. Securing US$ 4.3 billion between now and 2015 is essential to sustain GAVI's current programmes and introduce vaccines against pneumococcal disease and rotavirus diarrhoea in more than 40 of the world's poorest countries.

"Mobilising political will and resources is crucial for GAVI to be able to make a significant contribution to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015," said Mary Robinson, Chair of the GAVI Alliance Board. "Stronger health systems in developing countries are needed to reach mothers and children with basic services. GAVI is taking this into account by engaging in the common Health System Funding Platform together with the World Bank and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, with the coordination of the World Health Organization."

GAVI's commitment to children's health also includes mothers and GAVI is a committed member of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health that is hosted by WHO and unites over 300 organisations including UN agencies such as UNFPA and UNICEF. Immunisation is a proven delivery mechanism that can provide access to integrated maternal, newborn and child health services. When a woman brings her child to a health facility for immunisation, she comes into contact with a community health worker who performs a range of tasks including immunisation, family planning, antenatal care and acts as a referral point for skilled birth attendance.

44 countries co-finance vaccines

GAVI's 2009 Progress Report also states that GAVI's unique co-financing policy is working well. In 2009, 44 of the world's poorest countries - almost 90% of those which were required to - contributed towards the cost of GAVI-supported vaccines, with co-payments totalling over US$ 25 million. Seventeen countries, including Bolivia, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, chose to finance beyond the required levels, leading them towards financial sustainability more rapidly. Three countries, Senegal, Yemen and Zambia, are exceeding expectations by deciding to co-finance ahead of the required starting date.

The GAVI Alliance Board is meeting on Wednesday to discuss a proposal that all eligible countries should contribute to new vaccine support and that the funds used by a government to co-finance GAVI vaccines come from new and additional financing and do not displace resources that were targeted for other vaccines.

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