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Children’s Immunization Campaign Launched at World Economic Forum

A global alliance of business leaders, philanthropic foundations, development banks, UN agencies, and national governments today urged the world’s economic powerbrokers to view children as the key to sustainable human development, and said that millions of young lives could be saved each year through an ambitious new campaign to immunize all the world’s children.

The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations, known as GAVI, officially launched the vaccination campaign today at the World Economic Forum. Calling the campaign “The Children's Challenge,” the members of GAVI argued that children have a right to good health and that protecting the world’s children against preventable diseases was not only a moral imperative, but an essential cornerstone of a healthy, stable world society.

Businesses, governments, and philanthropists should work together to provide the life-saving vaccines that we take for granted to children around the world,” said Bill Gates, co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “Every child deserves access to these vaccines, and millions of lives can be saved. We can, and we should, do this together.”

Late last year, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation paved the way for the launch of the Children’s Challenge by donating $750 million over five years to establish the Global Fund for Children’s Vaccines. The fund is one of the financial tools GAVI will use to save children’s lives through improved immunization. GAVI is seeking additional large donations from the public and private sector. US Vice President Al Gore recently announced plans to ask Congress for $50 million to support the objectives of the Children’s Challenge.

“Nearly three million children worldwide still die needlessly each year of vaccine-preventable illnesses,” said Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the chair of GAVI. “For only $17 per child, we can provide lifetime protection against the six historical scourges—polio, diphtheria, tuberculosis, pertussis, measles and tetanus. And for not much more, we can extend the protection to include hepatitis B, yellow fever and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), the leading cause of pneumonia and meningitis.”

In launching the Children’s Challenge, the GAVI partners outlined three main inequities that need to be addressed in order to achieve the goal of universal immunization:

  • the 30 million children born every year in poor countries who are still not receiving the “basic six” immunizations
  • the growing disparity in the number of vaccines available to children in industrialized and developing countries
  • the lack of investment in vaccine research and development for diseases that are prevalent in   poorer countries, particularly HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.

“Extending the right to protection against preventable disease to all children, poor and rich, is not only a fundamental human right, it also makes good business sense,” said James D. Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank Group. “Ill health is one of the primary causes for an individual or family’s slide into poverty. If globalization is going to work, it must work for all the world’s children. That is the underlying meaning of the Children’s Challenge. It is imperative to ensure that all societies can enjoy the good health necessary for full participation in the global economy.”

UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy added that, “The success of the Children’s Challenge depends on a firm commitment by leaders of the private and public sectors to support the right of every child to the fullest protection against preventable disease that medical science can provide. The same resolve that markets products in poor rural villages, and sends television programming into the most remote corners of the world, can surely overcome all the usually cited barriers to universal immunization.”

Other leaders also emphasized the numerous positive consequences of the GAVI initiative.

In comments at the launch, President of Mozambique Joaquim Chissano said, “In the developing world, funds are scarce and priorities difficult to assign. However, it is clear that immunization of our children is a critical pre-condition to ending poverty and establishing a healthy and productive population.”

Business leaders from the vaccine/pharmaceutical industry promised to accelerate the delivery of available but underutilized vaccines for yellow fever, hepatitis B, and Hib. These diseases claim over a million lives each year in the developing world and improving access to effective vaccines is a major goal of GAVI.   

Jean-Jacques Bertrand, a member of GAVI´s Executive Board, underlined his industry’s commitment to do its part. “As global corporations, employers, and suppliers of vaccine, the pharmaceutical industry as represented by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations (IFPMA) has taken a far-sighted role in support of the Children's Challenge,” he said. “Individual companies that are participating in the GAVI efforts have pledged to continue to provide vaccines of the highest quality and to actively develop new breakthrough vaccines.”

Hope was also expressed that the Children’s Challenge campaign would result in accelerated development of vaccines for malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS.

Canada’s Minister for International Cooperation Maria Minna will represent Canada on the GAVI Board. Minister Minna welcomed the new initiative as a major contribution to improving the lives of children around the world: “There is no better way to ensure the success of a developing country than to invest in their children. This is one of my top priorities at the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and I intend to commit my energy and resources to ensure the world’s children receive the protection they deserve.”

Other governments also indicated their support for GAVI. “The Dutch government is very interested in becoming involved with the Children’s Challenge by providing support to GAVI,” said GAVI Board Member Dr. Els Borst-Eilers, minister of health and vice prime minister of the Netherlands. “Not only does vaccination have a clear connection to poverty reduction, but increased immunization rates in one country also reduce the spread of disease to any country in the global village, and GAVI is an exciting new strategy for achieving this progress.”

In summing up the achievements of Davos 2000, Klaus Schwab, president of the World Economic Forum, expressed particular satisfaction that GAVI and the Children’s Challenge were introduced to world business leaders at this year’s event. “Business leadership in the new millennium requires a vision that is more acute and far-reaching than in the past,” he said. “I am confident that all participants attending this year’s event will do all they can to help realise the great promise of the Children’s Challenge.”

GAVI was formed in 1999 to coordinate a global network of international development organizations, national governments, multilateral development banks, philanthropic organizations, private sector leaders and others in re-energizing the world’s commitment to vaccines and immunization. GAVI sees immunization as a fundamental cornerstone of global health, a key component of economic development, and an essential first step in enabling each child to reach his or her fullest physical and intellectual potential.

Helpful links: For webcast of the announcement, panel discussion, and press briefing, go to www.weforum.org. For more on GAVI, go to www.VaccineAlliance.org.

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