Global vaccination campaign for children launched in Davos

A new worldwide vaccination programme for children has been launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The head of the World Health Organisation, Gro Harlem Brundtland (picture) spoke of the dire need for vaccinations.

This content was published on January 31, 2000 - 18:41

A new worldwide vaccination programme for children has been launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The head of the World Health Organisation, Gro Harlem Brundtland (picture) spoke of the dire need for vaccinations.

The programme, called "The Children's Challenge", was launched at Monday's session of the annual World Economic Forum in Davos.

The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations (GAVI), a group of international organisations, development banks and private donors, said that millions of young lives could be saved through the campaign which aims to achieve universal immunisation of children against polio, diphtheria, tuberculosis, whooping cough, measles and tetanus.

"Today, 30 million children do not get their basic immunisation. That will lead to three million dying of a vaccine-preventable disease," Brundtland told the assembled business and government leaders.

She said the aim of protecting all children made economic as well as humanitarian sense: "The campaign will lay the foundation for personal development, social development and, eventually, economic development for entire societies."

She said diseases like AIDS and tuberculosis had devastated developing economies through lost productivity. Poverty and ill-health, she said, had overtaken territorial disputes as the biggest threats to world stability.

The Global Alliance campaign intends to correct imbalances between industrialised and developing countgries, according to the director of the WHO vaccination department, Dr. Björn Melgaard.

"The vaccine gap is widening," he said. "Twenty years after immunisation was launched in developing countries, most children still receive only six vaccines, whereas in countries like Switzerland, a child would receive somewhere between 8 and 10 vaccines.

"There is far too little investment in vaccine research that has no market potential in richer countries. Malaria is a good example," Melgaard said.

A large slice of the money funding the GAVI campaign is coming from the foundation set up by the founder of the Microsoft Corporation, Bill Gates, and his wife, Melinda. Last year, they donated 750 million dollars over five years to help start up the Global Alliance campaign.

Gates told delegates in Davos that businesses, governments and philanthropists should work together to provide the life-saving vaccines that we take for granted to children around the world.

He said he was stunned at the scale of the problem: "If you can save one person's life - that seems pretty important. So if you scale that up and talk about millions, it's hard to appreciate."

The billionaire added that the vaccination campaign was one of the most important things in the world.

"It's a priority that even comes before how everyone should have access to the internet. More important is that everyone should have basic health rights. That means all of these vaccines ought to be available worldwide," he said

Gates said the creation of GAVI was a way of galvanising people to say that they could do better. As well as saving three million lives, it was also a way of making the search for AIDS and malaria vaccines more of a priority.

From SRI staff

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