29 May 2014

Africa: Global Summit Looks to Immunization to Save Millions of Lives

press release

Toronto, Canada — Canadian PM Harper calls on countries to invest politically, financially to improve maternal, newborn and child health

Immunisation took centre stage this week at a global summit on maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH) organised by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and featuring GAVI Alliance CEO Dr Seth Berkley.

The summit, "Saving Every Woman, Every Child: Within Arm's Reach," was convened by Harper to help ensure that MNCH remains a global priority after the 2015 deadline for the UN Millennium Development Goals. The summit builds on the Muskoka Initiative spearheaded by Harper at the G8 meeting in 2010 to help save the lives of 1.3 million children and 64,000 mothers.

"End the tragedy of women and children dying needlessly from causes we can prevent," Harper said in his welcome statement.

The Prime Minister called on countries to invest politically and financially in immunisation, health system strengthening, data quality and nutrition -- each critical to achieving Canada's top development priority of reducing preventable deaths in developing countries.

Importance of immunisation

Every second, somewhere in the world, 30 children are immunised. No other intervention touches so many lives. GAVI Alliance CEO, Dr Seth Berkley

In his address, Berkley emphasised that vaccines are among the most cost-effective ways of advancing maternal, newborn and child health. "Every second, somewhere in the world, 30 children are immunised," he said. "No other intervention touches so many lives."

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. "We need a global reset of the ambition," he declared.

Bold, innovative partnerships

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Jakaya M. Kikwete, President of the United Republic of Tanzania as they attend the MNCH Summit in Toronto.

GAVI/2014/Pascal Barollier

The need for "bold new and innovative partnerships" was also cited by Harper as a key factor in MNCH success, and the summit included speakers from several public-private partnerships, alongside the GAVI Alliance.

Canada has shown a strong commitment to public-private partnerships, investing about C$500 million in the GAVI Alliance since 2002. This includes support for the Advance Market Commitment, which has worked with pharmaceutical suppliers and government donors like Canada to reduce the price of the pneumococcal vaccine by 95%.

The summit included several speakers from organisations and countries that are members of the GAVI Alliance, including Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete; ministers of health from GAVI Alliance implementing countries Ethiopia, Mali, Mozambique and Senegal, the latter represented by GAVI Alliance Board member Dr. Awa Marie Coll Seck; WHO Director-General Margaret Chan; UNICEF Executive Director Tony Lake; Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; and Sanofi Pasteur President Mark Lievonen.

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