Hanoi, 20 November 2009 - Through its commitment to immunisation and other child health interventions, Vietnam has drastically reduced its child deaths, putting the country well on track to reach the Millennium Development Goal 4 (MDG) before the 2015 deadline.
Statistics provided by UNICEF show that over the last two decades, deaths among Vietnamese children have dropped from 56 per 1000 in 1990 to 15 in 2007 .
The MDG4 is aimed at reducing by two thirds the number of deaths of children under five by 2015; one of the eight goals set by the United Nations.
Immunisation is at the heart of the Vietnamese Government's strategy for improving child health.
Dr Trinh Quan Huan, Vice Minister of Health of Vietnam
A national vaccination programme against measles, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus and other vaccine-preventable diseases has played a central role in achieving the reduction.
Routine immunisation coverage is 93% for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP3), matching the rates of most industrialised countries.
"Immunisation is at the heart of the Vietnamese Government's strategy for improving child health," said Dr Trinh Quan Huan, Vice Minister of Health of Vietnam and member of the GAVI Alliance Board.
"We have been able to use GAVI support to simultaneously expand our immunisation programmes in urban and rural areas, while improving the delivery of health services in general."
Dr Huan made the announcement at the GAVI Partners' Forum in Hanoi, a meeting of some 400 immunisation experts. Participants include ministers of health from over 30 countries and representatives from donor countries, civil society, industry, and development and research agencies.
"With our celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child today, it is very rewarding to see that Vietnam is making such progress. The country is working effectively with GAVI partners to provide its children with what every child is entitled to -- the right to equal access to good health," said human rights advocate and GAVI Board Chair Mary Robinson.
Julian Lob-Levyt, CEO of the GAVI Alliance, said that Vietnam was a good example of a worldwide trend among low-income nations who are steadily improving their immunisation rates.
"What we see in Vietnam is similar to many other places-countries are taking the tools provided with GAVI support and using them to ensure that more children have an opportunity to live and thrive," he said.
"Immunisation is one of the most cost-effective ways to save lives, improve health, and ensure long-term prosperity. Vietnam illustrates the success possible through an effective immunisation programme."
Dr Lob-Levyt noted other countries that are performing extraordinarily well in immunisation include Nepal, Congo, Djibouti, Gambia, Bhutan, Eritrea, and Bangladesh.
"This would have been unheard of even five years ago. It's remarkable," he said.
"We know how tough it is for developing countries to sustain the delivery of child health interventions such as immunisation, given limited resources. Vietnam has risen to this challenge and is proving that immunisation, together with other cost-effective interventions, makes all the difference in improving the health of children," said Daisy Mafubelu, Assistant Director-General for Family and Community Health at the World Health Organization.
"Immunisation and other child survival interventions are good indications of health system performance. Vietnam's outstanding achievement in consistently reaching its children with an ever-increasing number of vaccines and other life-saving interventions is an inspiring example of what can be done to realise children's right to health," said Pascal Villeneuve, Associate Director of Programmes at UNICEF.
Vietnam's child health achievements were recognised at the Hanoi meeting with a special award citing the outstanding performance by the country. Fourteen other low-income countries received similar awards.
The GAVI Alliance, which includes among its members WHO and UNICEF, has provided Vietnam with US$ 14.4 million for vaccines, US$ 3.2 million for injection safety, and US$ 1 million for immunisation services.
GAVI has also approved Vietnam's request for an additional US$ 21.3 million to introduce the pentavalent vaccine, a single dose of which contains antigens that protect against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib).Through mid-2009, GAVI has invested US$ 12.2 million for strengthening the health system, notably through health worker training.
New data also released this week shows that by the end of 2009, more than four million premature deaths caused by pertussis, Hib and hepatitis B will have been prevented globally through GAVI support. With funds from donor nations, philanthropy and the contributions of low-income governments, GAVI partners immunised an additional 256 million children.
At the Hanoi GAVI Partners' Forum, officials from UNICEF, which procures the majority of vaccines financed through GAVI, noted that GAVI efforts to pool and increase demand for vaccines have led to a significant drop in the average weighted price of the pentavalent vaccine.
It has fallen from a 2004 price of US$ 3.65 per dose to a 2010 price of US$ 2.94 and is expected to be US$ 2.83 by 2012.
The GAVI CEO welcomed the price decline but expressed GAVI's intention to achieve more.
"The price drop has come later than we had hoped and it needs to fall further," he said. "But this is a clear indication that our market-shaping efforts work. This will help us achieve our mission that is to save children's lives and protect people's health by increasing access to immunisation in poor countries."