US summit on child survival puts spotlight on immunisation

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Global health community celebrates progress and commits to maternal and child health at USAID event in Washington

USAID event June 2014 - Seth Berkley

GAVI Alliance CEO Seth Berkley tells attendees at the USAID child survival summit in Washington, DC, that vaccines are a highly cost-effective way of advancing maternal and child health.
Credit: GAVI/2014/Jonathan Stern.

Washington, D.C., 25 June 2014 - In an effort to accelerate reductions in preventable child and maternal deaths – including through immunisation – the global health community gathered this week at a summit in Washington, DC, with GAVI Alliance CEO Dr Seth Berkley as one of the featured speakers.

The event, “Acting on the Call: Ending Preventable Child and Maternal Deaths,” was co-hosted by the governments of the United States, Ethiopia and India, highlighting progress that has been made since the groundbreaking “Child Survival Call to Action” event in 2012.

The Obama Administration has made ending preventable child deaths a priority, and immunisation is a critical part of achieving this goal. GAVI Alliance activities are an important part of US government efforts to end preventable child deaths, working closely with other bilateral programmes to realise the President’s vision.

The future of global immunisation

In his address, Berkley emphasised that vaccines are a highly cost-effective way of advancing maternal and child health, adding that nearly 20 million children in low-income countries still do not receive a full course of the most basic vaccines.

“No other intervention touches so many lives. But the job is not yet done,” said Berkley. “If a disease exists somewhere, it is a threat everywhere. This is why we plan to scale up our efforts: to immunise another 300 million children from 2016-2020, which will save five to six million lives. Vaccines are one of the best investments we can make in future generations.”

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah addresses the Acting on the Call summit in Washington, DC on ending preventable maternal and child deaths.

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah addresses the Acting on the Call summit in Washington, DC on ending preventable maternal and child deaths.
Credit: GAVI/2014/Jonathan Stern.

During the forum, Dr Rajiv Shah, Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), announced that it is realigning US$ 2.9 billion of its resources to save up to 500,000 children from preventable deaths by end-2015.

“We know how to reach every woman and every child,” said Shah. “If we accelerate the rate of reduction [in maternal and child deaths], we can realise a world where very child, everywhere survives to reach a fifth birthday.”

Huge advances tied to immunisation

Since 1990, under-5 mortality has been nearly halved – from 12.6 million to 6.6 million – while maternal deaths have fallen by nearly 50%, from 543,000 to 289,000. It is no coincidence, noted Berkley, that this drop in child mortality occurred concurrently with significant increases in global immunisation coverage in poor countries.

Worldwide, 83% of children now receive routine immunisation, such as a full course of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP) vaccines compared with about 60% at the start of the 1990s. However, Berkley warned that 1.5 million children are still dying from vaccine-preventable diseases each year with only 5% of children receiving all 11 of the vaccines recommended by WHO.

The GAVI Alliance, with the help of its partners, hopes to immunise an additional 300 million children between 2016 and 2020, and produce a tenfold increase in the proportion of children who are fully immunised with WHO-recommended vaccines. This will result in 5 million to 6 million future deaths averted by 2020. This unprecedented scale-up would require GAVI to mobilise US $7.5 billion in additional investments over the next five years ($1.5 billion per year).

The United States has been a strong partner of the GAVI Alliance, and the Obama Administration has requested a record US$ 200 million for GAVI in his fiscal year 2015 budget. The request has received Congressional appropriations committee approval in both the House and Senate. In all, the United States has contributed US$ 1.2 billion to the GAVI Alliance since it was founded in 2000.

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