Geneva, 30 October - Marking the first international World Pneumonia Day on 2 November, the GAVI Alliance plans to immunise 130 million children in poor countries against pneumonia, the world's leading child killer.
Pneumonia, a severe inflammation of the lungs usually caused by infection, is responsible for one in four child deaths, more than HIV/AIDs, malaria and measles combined. Each year, it kills approximately 1.8 million children under five years of age, making it the leading child killer. Despite its overwhelming toll, little attention and funding are given to it.
"A child dies of pneumonia every 15 seconds and 98% of those deaths are in poor nations," said Dr Julian Lob-Levyt, GAVI CEO. "A vaccine to help protect children from pneumonia has existed since 2000 but is only available in rich countries. GAVI plans to change that."
The most effective way to prevent pneumonia deaths is to provide easy access to safe and affordable vaccines. Vaccines against two of pneumonia's common bacterial causes, Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b) and pneumococcus, are routinely used in industrialized countries but are not yet available in most of the developing world.
Since 2001, GAVI has provided funding for the introduction of Hib vaccines in 59 countries with astonishing results. Thanks to this increased use of the vaccine, a number of countries, including Uganda, Bangladesh, and Kenya, have nearly eliminated the disease.
Lob-Levyt said GAVI's Accelerated Vaccine Introduction initiative aims to speed up the introduction of pneumococcal vaccines to vaccinate approximately 130 million children in 42 countries by 2015. The plan also aims to introduce the vaccine against rotavirus, which causes diarrhoea, another major killer, in 44 countries. Together, the introduction of the two vaccines could save the lives of up to 11 million children by 2030.
To fund the plan, GAVI will need to raise up to an additional $4 billion between 2009 and 2015.
"Millennium Goal 4 cannot be met without this investment," said Lob-Levyt. "Immunisation is one of the most cost-effective ways to save lives. And improved health is a fundamental driver for long term development. Donors and the global health community must remain focused on the cost-effective intervention of immunisation, particularly in the current economic climate. "The objective of Millennium Goal 4, one of the eight goals set by the United Nations in 2000, is to reduce by two thirds the number of deaths of children under five by 2015.
The GAVI Alliance has been at the forefront of finding innovative ways to raise money for immunisation. To ensure a long-term sustainable supply of pneumococcal vaccines, Alliance members, including the World Bank and UNICEF, have developed a market-based financing mechanism called the Advance Market Commitment, or AMC. Using donor commitments, the AMC provides an incentive for vaccine makers to produce suitable vaccines in the necessary quantities at an affordable price for developing countries. The result is that GAVI has been able to reduce the current price of existing pneumococcal vaccines by up to 90%.
"Children in poor countries have the same right to health, the same right to be immunised, as children in rich nations," said Lob-Levyt. "We have the vaccine technology, the demand by countries and the systems in place. This is an historic opportunity to make another giant leap towards reducing child mortality in our lifetime."
The Alliance's vaccination plans are included in the Global Action Plan for the prevention and control of pneumonia (GAPP), a report to be presented by WHO and UNICEF on 2 November. The report outlines a comprehensive prevention and control strategy to further reduce the rate of pneumonia among children. Vaccination is part of an integrated approach that includes antibiotics, oxygen therapy, adequate nutrition and clean water.
GAVI Alliance (formerly the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation) is a public-private partnership of major stakeholders in immunisation and health system support. It includes developing country and donor governments, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank, the vaccine industry in both industrialised and developing countries, research and technical agencies, civil society, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and individuals. WHO projections show that GAVI support has prevented more than 3.4 million future deaths by the end of 2008.
World Pneumonia Day: The GAVI Alliance will join more than 50 organizations and millions of people worldwide in supporting the first-ever World Pneumonia Day to highlight pneumonia's tremendous burden and the potential of prevention and treatment solutions. World Pneumonia Day is a wake-up call to the international community to support scale-up of available vaccines and medicines, invest in intervention programs, and save millions of children from an entirely preventable death. The fight against pneumonia is a collective responsibility and an important step for the international community in reaching the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, including the goal to reduce the death of children under 5 by two -thirds.