Old diseases, new infections may re-emerge without better vaccine funding, UN warns
Old diseases and new infections will re-emerge unless urgent action is taken to close the gaps in funding, research and global immunization coverage, according to a new report jointly produced by the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Bank.
Entitled “State of the World’s Vaccines and Immunization”, the report points out that while vaccines have saved billions of lives in the past century, and are still the least expensive way of controlling the spread of infectious diseases, they are not reaching the populations that need them most.
Carol Bellamy, UNICEF Executive Director and Chair of the joint initiative, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), said vaccines are among the most cost-effective public health interventions. “Today, no child should die from a vaccine-preventable disease,” she said.
The report cites low donor investment as one of the major reasons for the huge gaps in coverage, stating that external aid to developing countries for immunization currently stands at approximately $1.56 billion annually. “With an additional investment of $250 million a year, at least 10 million more children would be reached with basic vaccines [while] a further $100 million a year would cover the cost of newer vaccines,” including hepatitis B and Hib vaccines, which together kill 970,000 children each year.
The report also says low-income countries spend as little as $6 per person per year on health, including immunization, while access to vaccines has been limited by the countries’ poor economies and market situation for vaccines. “For instance, while a vaccine with some efficacy for HIV/AIDS is now seen as possibly achievable within the next 10 years, only one clinical trial for this vaccine has been conducted in Africa, the continent that bears 70 per cent of the world’s HIV burden.”
According to a joint statement issued today in Dakar, Senegal, by the producers of the report, while children in developed nations have access to additional, newer and more expensive vaccines to protect them against major childhood diseases, only half of the children in sub-Saharan Africa have access to basic immunization against common diseases such as tuberculosis, measles, tetanus and whooping cough. “In poor and isolated areas of developing countries, vaccines reach fewer than one in 20 children,” the statement said.
“In many regions of the world it is more the rule than the exception for children to die of common childhood conditions such as measles, which alone causes about 700,000 deaths a year,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, adding that access to life-saving vaccines was the only way of avoiding major epidemics of new and old diseases.
For his part, James Wolfensohn, World Bank President and GAVI board member, said the key to a well-functioning immunization and health system is in building financial sustainability from the outset, and bridging the gap between rich and poor countries in terms of access to vaccines.