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Seth Berkley, M.D.

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U.S. Leadership at Home Is Saving Lives Around the World

Posted: 06/14/2012 11:03 am

From Ghana to Haiti, U.S. leadership and partnership in global health is helping save the lives of millions of children around the world.

On Thursday in Washington, the governments of the U.S., India, and Ethiopia and organizations such as UNICEF are hosting the Child Survival Call to Action, a two-day high-level meeting to secure global commitments to drastically reduce preventable child deaths within a generation. Vaccines are critical to this effort.

Every 20 seconds a child dies of a vaccine-preventable disease. That's 1.7 million each year. Vaccines routinely given to American children can give lifelong protection against a wide range of illnesses, including the main causes of two of the leading childhood killers -- pneumonia and severe diarrhea. Because the overwhelming majority of these deaths occur in poorer countries, it is critical to get these life-saving vaccines there as well.

The preventive power of vaccines makes these miracles of science one of the most successful and cost-effective ways to save lives and ensure healthy families and whole communities. Vaccines save money by reducing the costs for repeated medical treatment and long-term disability and the loss of productivity for parents who must miss work to care for sick children.

The International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has just released new data on the estimated benefits of vaccine use over the period of 2011-2020. IVAC estimates that the use of just three vaccines -- a small number of the vaccines GAVI is rolling out in developing countries -- against pneumococcal disease, rotavirus, and Haemophilus influenzae type b, can prevent 3.7 million children under five from dying from disease; avert 101 million cases of illness; more than 2.9 million long-term disabilities; and $62.7 billion in treatment costs and economic losses. That's huge savings -- in money, and in lives.

The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) is a public-private partnership that works with governments in the developed and developing world, vaccine producers, civil society organizations, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and others to provide life-saving vaccines to children in poorer nations. The U.S. government has been a critical supporter of this initiative since it was launched in 2000.

In partnership with GAVI, USAID, UN and others, in April, Ghana became the first African country to simultaneously introduce vaccines against pneumonia and severe diarrhea. That same month, in Haiti, the first doses of a pentavalent vaccine that protects against five different diseases with three simple shots were given. Nigeria began its pentavalent roll-out last Friday. And over the past year, dozens of other countries have also introduced these new vaccines at an unprecedented pace.

For the first time in history, these new vaccines are also reaching people in the developing world soon after they're available in wealthier countries, eliminating what used to be a delay of 15 years or more.

Nobody gets a free lunch at GAVI. To qualify for support, developing country governments must also contribute to the cost of purchasing their vaccines building financial ownership for vaccines as their economies improve.

Measurable progress is being made and much of it is due to the critical role that vaccines play. With the continued leadership of the U.S. and developing countries, the support of the private sector, and others doing their part, a healthier future for all the world's children can be achieved in our lifetime.

 
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