Aid group calls for more vaccines

by Natsuko Fukue

Staff Writer

The head of a Geneva-based aid group on funding vaccinations in developing countries urged Japan on Friday to make larger financial contributions to saving children’s lives in disease-stricken parts of the world.

Helen Evans, interim CEO of the Global Alliance for Vaccination and Immunization, who came to Tokyo on Wednesday on a three-day trip, emphasized the importance of financial contributions from Japan.

“There’s a huge difference between the rate of immunization in the developed world and developing countries. (In developed countries,) we have access to good health care services, but for many people in developing countries, health care services don’t exist, so children often die,” she said.

The GAVI Alliance is an international organization set up in partnership with the World Health Organization, the World Bank, UNICEF and other institutions. According to Evans, the group has saved more than 5 million lives in the past decade by funding children’s vaccinations in developing countries.

The alliance was launched in 2000 at the World Economic Forum to save more than 2 million children in poorer countries who die every year from vaccine-preventable diseases. Such countries are often unable to afford vaccines to prevent diseases that make children vulnerable to sickness.

“The biggest killers of children are pneumonia and diarrhea, which account for about 37 percent of children’s death,” Evans said.

With support of the GAVI Alliance, however, “an additional 4 million lives in the next five years” will be saved, she said.

The group needs to collect huge amounts of money to save children’s lives, and because official development assistance has been decreasing, Evans said they have to come up with ways for innovative financing.

One way is through “vaccine bonds,” which are available in Japan, she said. The bonds fund the purchase of vaccines for children in developing countries.

Daiwa Securities Group Inc. started selling the bonds in Japan for the first time in 2008. So far, bonds to fund ¥110 billion have been sold, according to Daiwa Securities.

For developing countries to obtain funding from the GAVI Alliance, they have to submit applications and face an assessment by an independent technical committee. Eligible countries are those with a gross national income per capita below or equal to $1,500, because the group targets only the poorest countries.

In February, Evans visited Kenya, where a campaign by the GAVI Alliance has started to vaccinate children for pneumonia.

“I was amazed to see mothers flocking in to clinics to get their children vaccinated” just a day after the campaign was launched, she said.