Milan, 29 April 2009 -With an urgent appeal to the eight most powerful nations in the world, scientists, economists, health experts and civil society representatives marked the European Day of Immunology, 29 April. The Italian hosted G8 summit in July is a major opportunity to put vaccines firmly on the global aganda.
Professor Alberto Mantovani, Chairman of the Humanitas Research Foundation, and Dr Julian Lob-Levyt, CEO of the GAVI Alliance, urged the G8 to further invest in global health at a time of global economic downturn.
They spoke today at a high-level conference entitled "Immunology, economics and solidarity for global health" organised by their organisations and under the patronage of the Italian Ministry of Finance. The conference aims to take stock of cutting edge scientific advances which allow the world's poorest children to receive life-saving vaccines.
The financial crisis represents a major threat to improvements that poor countries are making in their healthcare systems.
Dr Julian Lob-Levyt, CEO of the GAVI Alliance
"The financial crisis represents a major threat to improvements that poor countries are making in their healthcare systems. But the world's most vulnerable must not be the victims of the current economic downturn," said Dr Lob-Levyt.
"Unless more resources are found, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will not be met and the world's economic leaders will have failed to fulfil ambitious promises made at previous summits."
Professor Mantovani, who is also a lecturer at Milan University, added, "The next G8 summit in July will offer the world's power-brokers a major opportunity to influence future collective action in global health. They must define strategies to maintain progress made in improving health conditions and which measures to take to achieve the MDGs by 2015."
Dr. Mantovani pointed out that immunisation is one of the most cost-effective investments to decrease poverty and prevent longer term economic and social costs.
Each dollar spent on vaccination can yield up to 18 dollars in return, researchers have projected. It costs approximately just US$12 to immunise a child against five killer diseases: diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B and hib, an infection that causes meningitis and pneumonia. Other vaccines, such as those against measles and rubella cost mere cents.
"How can governments spend trillions of dollars to save their banks and ignore the plight of children who are dying from preventable diseases in developing countries? If the G8 leaders do not act now, we will not just face a financial bankruptcy, but a moral bankruptcy and world leaders will not be able to claim they did not know better," Dr Lob-Levyt added.
Conference speakers also included Vittorio Grilli, Director-General of the Treasury, Ministry of Economy and Finance, Rino Rappuoli, Vice-President of vaccine research at Novartis, and Giovanni Pianosi, Head of the International Cooperation Group of "Les Cultures".
"Scientific research, civil society and economics have joined forces under GAVI's banner," Dr. Mantovani explaine.
"The work undertaken by GAVI, a public-private partnership, helps make the vision of vaccinating all children in developing countries a reality. Thanks to GAVI and its partners, underused and new vaccines such as the rotavirus vaccine are being made available to the world's most vulnerable children."
In its nine year existence, the GAVI Alliance has concentrated on rolling out existing and underused vaccines to poor countries and strengthening health systems. It is now ramping up efforts to provide support for new generation vaccines against pneumococcal and rotavirus.
Last week, the Alliance celebrated with the government of Rwanda the first introduction of a pneumococcal vaccine in a developing country.
Pneumococcal diseases, which cause meningitis and pneumonia, currently kill more than 1.6 million people worldwide each year, including at least 800,000 children, most of which occur in the world's poorest countries.
A group of committed donors, led by the Italian governement, have ensured the long-term sustainable supply of pneumoccocal vaccine for poor countries through an innovative financing mechanism called Advanced Market Commitments (AMC).
Through an AMC, donors commit money to guarantee the price of vaccines once they have been developed, thus creating the potential for a viable future market. These commitments provide vaccine makers with the incentive to invest the considerable sums required to conduct research and build and allocate manufacturing capacity.
In return, they commit to a legally binding price that is affordable for developing countries. In just a few months, GAVI will begin implementing the first AMC: a pilot against pneumococcal disease.
The Italian government also supports GAVI's International Finance Facility for Immunisation (IFFIm), which raises money for immunisation on private bond markets.
"Italy is a world leader in innvoative financing for health," said Dr. Lob-Levyt. "It is the most important donor to the AMC and a major IFFIm supporter."
Support from the Italian government to GAVI amounts to more than US$ 1 billion over a period of 20 years.