By Amie Batson, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Global Health Bureau
You may not know that the leading killers of children in the poorest countries are diarrhea and pneumonia. You almost certainly don’t know that your contributions can help save the lives of 4 million children – many because of the introduction of two new vaccines to protect against those diseases.
Last week, I was in Rwanda, helping the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization plan the introduction of vaccines for rotavirus and pneumococcal diseases, major causes of diarrhea and pneumonia. With your support as well as corporations, foundations, and countries rich and poor, GAVI, will save the lives of 4 million children in the next five years.
That sounds ambitious, but it’s very doable – and you’re a big part of the reason. With your help, GAVI supported childhood immunization in poor countries over the last 10 years, saving the lives of 5.4 million children, and shielding millions more from the long-term effects of illness on growth and development.
The U.S. has been a leader in immunization, but we can’t do it alone. Working with and through groups like GAVI helps ensure that other donor countries, companies and foundations, as well as developing countries themselves, all contribute their share: a global solution to a global problem. In addition to the U.S., fourteen other countries and the European Union are donors, and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is also a generous supporter.
People have been a big part of that success as well. GAVI has had strong, high-level leadership – the Rwanda meeting marked the last for Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland who served as chair of GAVI’s board, who deserves thanks for her advocacy. Norway has been a global leader in the fight to immunize children in the poorest countries, and its former health minister, Dagfinn Hoybraten, took over as chair – underlining Norway’s continuing commitment.
U.S. leadership isn’t just a matter of money. The expertise of people at USAID has been crucial as well. Since the ‘70s, USAID professionals have worked with partners across the globe to confront the challenge of vaccine-preventable diseases and help immunize children in remote parts of the world. Working with an efficient partner like GAVI that mobilizes resources from other countries, foundations and companies multiplies the impact of U.S. expertise, as well as dollars.
GAVI is a model for the new approach the U.S. is taking through the Global Health Initiative: an innovation approach, a public-private partnership seeking innovative sources of finance for vaccines for poor countries, investing in children, with a clear focus on measurable results. GAVI is a true partnership, accomplishing more than any nation could do on its own, and doing it efficiently, with a small staff.
As the U.S. expands the life-saving impact of our global health assistance through the Global Health Initiative announced by President Obama, our support for immunization will continue, because it is one of the most cost-effective ways to save lives and promote health. Reaching children with this simple, affordable intervention is one of the smartest investments in global health – and the right thing to do. And we can do it in a way that builds national systems, so they won’t need help forever.
These times demand that we provide more health for the money we invest in global health. Despite the success of immunization programs, vaccine-preventable diseases are still estimated to cause more than 2 million deaths every year.
We will help because compassion is a fundamental American value — and so is efficiency in using the resources we have, innovation to make those resources go further, and realism to know we can’t do it all by ourselves. Working with and through GAVI, we have changed the future of millions of children and families. That’s effective, efficient realistic compassion, and it’s worth doing more.