Board Chair of the GAVI Alliance
Next week in Washington I'll join hundreds of leaders--from world governments, the private sector, and faith-based organizations--to launch the Child Survival Call to Action, a long-term, focused effort to save children's lives.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, and other leaders will join the health ministers of India and Ethiopia in leading the two-day high-level meeting.
The gathering will also focus on improving maternal health-an effort supported by a recent partnership pledge between the U.S. and Norway and announced by Secretary Clinton in Oslo last week.
As vice president of the Norwegian Parliament, I'm proud of the longstanding collaboration between our countries to save lives and improve people's health around the world.
I also chair the board of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), a public-private partnership that works with governments in the developing world, vaccine producers, and others to expand access to vaccines and immunization.
The support of donor countries, including the U.S. and Norway, is also vital to GAVI's work and has helped avert 5.5 million deaths since GAVI was founded in 2000. At a conference in London last June-where Administrator Shah proposed the Call to Action-donors pledged critical new support to GAVI.
As a result, new vaccines have been introduced in more than a dozen countries since then. Pneumonia caused by pneumococcal disease and diarrhea caused by rotavirus are two of the biggest killers of children. Almost 50 countries will introduce the pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines by 2015. This will allow us to deliver on the promise made to donors to reach as many people in the developing world as possible with vaccines. Working with partners including UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the World Bank, our goal is to vaccinate an additional quarter billion children in the next four years. Countries are also key partners as GAVI support is not a handout. Countries that apply for and receive GAVI funding must also pay a portion of the costs to provide new vaccines.
The urgency behind this effort, and the Call to Action, is driven by a sobering fact: 7.6 million children around the world die each year and countless children in developing countries don't live to their fifth birthday. A staggering 1.7 million children mostly in developing countries die each year from diseases that can be prevented by vaccines.
The conference has an ambitious goal of ending preventable child deaths within a generation. This goal is indeed achievable. But this will require a new level of collaboration, additional resources and increased accountability. We should be driven by our goal to end a massive tragedy that is now entirely preventable.
Vaccines play a critical role in achieving this goal. Expanded use of vaccines and additional cost-effective interventions could reduce child mortality by about 5 million lives per year. Thanks to worldwide support and the commitment in countries, there's been tremendous success in reducing child mortality over the last 10 to 15 years.
Immunization has been a major driver of this progress, saving more than 3 million lives per year. In the past decade, coverage rates have increased more than 10 percent, even in the poorest countries. Given the availability of vaccines and mechanisms like GAVI to ensure that vaccines reach the poor, the ethical and moral imperative becomes even greater.
Immunization is a matter of justice. New vaccines are being rolled out against two of the biggest killers of children, pneumonia and diarrhea. By ensuring greater equity we can address the once shameful delay of 15 years or more between when vaccines were used in wealthier countries versus poorer ones. For the first time in history, these life-saving tools are available in the developing world soon after they're introduced in the developed world.
I passionately believe that vaccines should reach children wherever they live.
I've been in public life for more than 30 years and count myself fortunate to have served as Norway's former health minister and to have led a national party.
But the children whose lives are changed by the efforts of organizations like GAVI and many others doing important work in child survival do not have a voice in the political process. They can't vote, they can't write letters to their Congressional representatives, they can't make campaign contributions. These children need advocates who can speak for them and for their concerns. Let's use the child survival meeting in Washington to create a dramatically different future for millions of children around the world.
This blog post also appears on The Hill's Congress Blog.