Shouldn’t a child be given the same shot of life no matter where he or she is born? I believe that children everywhere deserve the chance to live and reach their full potential. The availability of life-saving vaccines for every child is critical.
For those of you who have followed my blog for years, you know that besides blogging I am also an active advocate and activist for a number of important causes. I advocate for the ONE Campaign to eradicate global poverty, ONE Women and Girls to help elevate the status and well-being of women and girls around the world, RESULTS (another advocacy group that works to advocate with our members of Congress to affect policy on ending poverty) and the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life Campaign, a grassroots organization aimed at providing global vaccines to the developing world. All of these causes are truly important to me and I am amazed how much I’ve personally grown by being a part of each organization and using my voice to effect positive change.
As an advocate for global vaccines, I’ve worked hard as a Shot@Life Champion since the campaign launched almost three years ago. Working with Shot@Life has taught me many things about the value of vaccines and the importance of their availability around the world in saving lives. Before I joined Shot@Life, I had no idea that every twenty seconds a child dies from a vaccine-preventable death. Every twenty seconds!
The tragic statistics combined with the reality that this is a fixable, solvable problem that truly does not cost much, invigorated me to join the cause and fight for funding of global vaccines.
This January, world leaders are meeting to discuss the replenishment of the GAVI global fund for vaccines. This meeting comes at a critical moment in time. A time where we have seen amazing progress in the reduction of under age five deaths thanks to the provision of global vaccines.
At the meeting, global leaders and private donors will make commitments for the next five-year plan of GAVI’s funding (years 2016-2020). The goal is to achieve 7.5 billion, and the United States, one of the top four funders of the GAVI Alliance, is being asked to commit to 1 billion dollars. It is an ambitious and reasonable goal. (In case you are wondering, the top donor last year was the UK, followed by the Gates Foundation and Norway. The US came in fourth).
Before I dive into GAVI and their great work, I’d like to tell a story. In early September I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Namala Patrick Mkopi, the Secretary General of Tanzania’s Pediatric Association. I met Dr. Mkopi for lunch and he shared firsthand stories about what he has seen as a pediatrician in Africa. The two leading killers of children under age five are diarrhea and pneumonia. Together they kill one in every four children in the world, and both are preventable by vaccines.
Dr. Mkopi told me more about Rotovirus, a very deadly killer. As a mom of two, I know that diarrhea can cause severe dehydration but thankfully the nearest hospital is only ten minutes away. Rotovirus is different. If not stopped, a child can rapidly decline and die within hours. Dr. Mkopi had seen his colleague’s child almost die from rotovirus and as a new father he swore he would never risk this happening to his own child.
Three years ago when his child was born, the rotovirus vaccine was not available in Tanzania even though diarrhea was the second leading cause of death in children in the developing world. Desperate, Dr. Mkopi was able to get a vaccine from neighboring Kenya using his contacts and his own money. However, once he got the vaccine he had to refrigerate it and unfortunately Tanzania has its share of power outages. In order to ensure the vaccine didn’t spoil and protect his new son from Rotovirus, Dr. Mkopi bought a generator to keep the vaccine safe. He was the lucky one.
So what is Gavi?
Gavi is a global partnership bringing together public and private sectors to create equal access to vaccines for children, wherever they live. Gavi works in 73 countries by partnering with Ministries of Health, international NGOS, private and public sectors, and communities in order to deliver country-based vaccination programs. Gavi purchases over 60% of the world vaccines from pharmaceutical companies, allowing the price to significantly decrease to an affordable level for the developing world.
Gavi works with each country on a personal level and the vaccines supplied are not given for free. Instead, every country must pay Gavi for part of the cost of the vaccines based on income level. When a country reaches a certain income level, they “graduate” from the Gavi funding program and are able to pay the cost of vaccinating their nation’s children on their own.
What is critical to understand is that before Gavi, poor countries could not afford to buy the vaccinations. Life-saving vaccines were only for the wealthy western countries. Gavi has managed to reduce the prices significantly allowing some of the people who need vaccines the most to have access to them.
What does Gavi do?
Once the vaccines are purchased at a reduced cost, they are administrated in country by various on the ground organizations who specialize in providing vaccines. You can imagine the immense challenges in some parts of the world that do live remotely or in mountainous, inaccessible areas. It takes an enormous effort to ensure each and every child is vaccinated.
Why is it important?
Vaccines are proven to save lives. Much progress has been made in reducing the number of vaccine-preventable deaths of children under five worldwide. Without these life-saving vaccines, progress will be lost and children will needlessly die.
What are the accomplishments to date of the Gavi fund?
- Immunized an estimated 440 children by the end of 2013.
- Prevented an estimaged 6 million future deaths by the end of 2013.
- Accelerated vaccine introductions in over 70 countries.
- Strengthened health systems to deliver immunization.
- Helped shape the market for vaccines by driving costs down.
What is the ask?
In order to continue the progress that has been made, GAVI is asking for $7.5 billion to replenish the fund and reach millions of children with life-saving vaccines. $1 billion is being asked from the US, a strong bipartisan supporter of vaccines.
What is the hopeful result?
If Gavi meets its $7.5 billion goal, it will be able to immunize an additional 300 million children, helping to save between 5 and 6 million lives.
What can you do?
We can make the difference by using our voice! It is easy. Here are some things you can do to ensure funding for GAVI.
For US citizens, please fill out this petition to President Obama voicing your support for the replenishment of GAVI.
If you are on Twitter, please send out the following tweets to the White House:
@Gavi helps save millions of children from vaccine-preventable diseases! Show your support to the President http://trib.al/X8zvugM
Raise your voice and tell the @WhiteHouse that @Gavi is important to you http://trib.al/9prtFmR #vaccineswork
If you are not an American citizen, you can check to see where your country is at in funding GAVI and make sure they are supporting funding. To see where each funding donor lies, click here on Donor Profiles.
Want to learn more?
All resources in this post are from GAVI Vaccine Alliance.