Submitted by Amie Batson
Deputy Assistant Administrator, Global Health

Today as the United Nations General Assembly begins its review of progress on fighting poverty and disease, I took part in a meeting about something great you did: You helped save the lives of more than 5.4 million children all over the world in the past 10 years.

Here’s how: you stopped accepting that parents in African and other developing countries must wait up to 15 years to protect their children with vaccines – if they ever got them.  Because of that stand, a new partnership, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), was formed to take action.

GAVI has made a successful, life-saving difference, paid for by you — whether you’re in the U.S., fourteen other countries, or the European Union.  The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is also a generous supporter. And the U.S. Agency for International Development is a major partner in the field.

In its first 10 years, GAVI and its global partners, including the U.S., provided support to countries which delivered vaccines against life-threatening childhood diseases to more than 250 million children, saving the lives of more than 5 million, and shielding millions more from the long-term effects of illness on growth and development.

This success makes for a safer world for all of us. As a public health professional who has worked in immunization for much of my career, this is an exciting development. And as a mother, I think it’s the right thing to do.

As the U.S. expands our commitment to global health through the $63 billion, six-year Global Health Initiative announced last year by President Obama, our support for immunization will continue and increase.

Immunization is critically important in the world’s effort to achieve Millennium Development Goal 4: reducing child mortality.  When children escape disease, they have a fighting chance to thrive and attend school. As they grow into healthy adults, they can then contribute to the development of more vibrant and productive societies.

Since the 1970s, USAID has worked with partners across the globe to confront the challenge of vaccine-preventable diseases and help immunize children in remote parts of the world.

At today’s meeting hosted by GAVI and UNICEF, global health leaders took stock of current efforts to save the lives of children.

My message to the group was simple – we know a lot, but achieving the Millennium Development Goals  will require creative new approaches to reaching the millions of children who aren’t immunized – or receiving any real care, to accelerate the access to life saving vaccines, and to ensure sustainable systems are established to serve children today and in 5 years.

These innovations come from the countries – doctors, nurses, health workers –who have found innovative ways to reach into communities and provide services and from scientific and technological innovations in development where we need to ensure these breakthroughs in the science translate into lives saved.

Research, development, and the use of vaccines and immunization are top priorities for USAID. As USAID Administrator Dr. Raj Shah has said, “Humanity demands an AIDS and malaria vaccine to prevent these scourges, and low-cost pneumonia and Rotavirus vaccines that will eliminate hundreds of thousands of child deaths every year.”

Despite the success of immunization programs, vaccine-preventable diseases are still estimated to cause more than 2 million deaths every year.  Together with the GAVI partners, we can prevent more of them.