Geneva, 17 September 2009 - Nearly 2.3 million children continue to die each year from vaccine-preventable diseases, even while the overall mortality rate of children continues to drop, reported the GAVI Alliance today.
Following UNICEF's announcement last week that the number of children dying before their fifth birthday each year has fallen below nine million for the first time on record, GAVI said that 25% of the remaining deaths could still be prevented through proper vaccination.
The demand by low-income countries for new, life-saving vaccines has never been higher. We must answer their call.
Dr. Julian Lob-Levyt, GAVI CEO
"By far, the biggest vaccine-preventable killers of children are pneumonia and diarrhoeal diseases, said GAVI CEO Julian Lob-Levyt at a reception held at the Alliance headquarters.
"This is unacceptable. The demand by low-income countries for new, life-saving vaccines has never been higher. We must answer their call."
"It is the responsibility of GAVI and its partners UNICEF and WHO, to ensure timely access to life-saving existing vaccines. This contribution will also lay the groundwork for the introduction of an affordable new conjugate vaccine in the Expanded Programme of Immunization (EPI) schedule."
Many child deaths caused by pneumonia are due to the pneumococcal bacterium, while many child deaths due to diarrhoea can be attributed to rotavirus. Vaccines for both diseases exist but are not widely available to low-income countries, where the majority of deaths occur.
Funding for the roll-out is urgently needed, however. Full introduction of the vaccines could avert over 800,000 deaths of children under five and help countries come closer to meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), especially MDG 4, which is aimed at reducing child mortality by two thirds by 2015.
The use of both vaccines together could prevent more than 11 million child deaths by 2030.
Dr Lob-Levyt's comments were made at a reception to celebrate the Alliance's status as an independent international institution in Switzerland, the first organisation recognised as such under a new Swiss law passed this year.
Spanish royalty, Swiss officials, ambassadors, UN representatives and civil society members were in attendance. GAVI Board Chair Mary Robinson called on renewed commitment to immunisation despite the economic crisis.
"GAVI stands for the importance of immunisation of children and the delivery of new vaccines. We know why we get up every morning and work very hard, because immunisation is the most cost-effective way to save the lives of many, many children," the former Irish President and human rights activist said.
Evelyne Gerber, Head of the office of diplomatic and consular law, Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, welcomed the GAVI Alliance as an international institution in Switzerland in the name of her government.
"Recognising the important role played by GAVI in global health, in particular in the field of vaccination of children - so crucial to achieve MDG 4 -, we are very proud to have concluded a Headquarters Agreement with GAVI Alliance, facilitating its work."