Writing for PoliticsHome, Jim Dobbin MP outlines the importance of the Government maintaining its commitment to spending on vaccinations in the developing world.
Vaccines are one of the most effective health interventions available and in the UK we take them for granted. It is a normal part of a child’s development for them to receive vaccines against a range of devastating diseases. By the age of 18 a British child can be expected to have been vaccinated against Polio, Whooping Cough, Diphtheria, Meningitis C, Pneumococcal disease, Hib, tetanus, measles, mumps and rubella with the additional HPV vaccine for girls. What an incredible start this gives our children and it’s no wonder that in 2010 we had an infant death rate of 4.3 in every 1000 live births – the lowest ever recorded.
But, imagine if a child lived in an area with poor hygiene and sanitation, a high poverty rate and without access to vaccines. This is the reality in numerous developing world countries where 22 million children each year do not have access to basic vaccines. One in five of all children who die before their fifth birthday lose their lives to vaccine preventable diseases.
The UK, however, has come together with a number of partners to tackle this problem head on. In January 2000, with global immunisation rates stagnating, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI Alliance) was launched to fund vaccines for children in the world's poorest countries. The UK Government, firstly under Tony Blair and continued by successive Governments, has been pivotal to this effort and as a result the GAVI Alliance has flourished. Since 2000 the organisation has been able to immunise 370 million children and help prevent more than 5.5 million future deaths. In 12 years this is an immense achievement.
But, the future of GAVI’s work depends on the strength of its donors. That’s why I am in Tanzania this week to meet with representatives from the GAVI Alliance and its partners at a global health event in Dar Es Salaam, to learn from their experiences and expertise in rolling out vaccination projects across the developing world. It will also allow me to meet with the more than 600 distinguished attendees, including fellow parliamentarians, global health leaders, NGO representatives and technical experts who are participating in the event, and to see how UK development funding is being spent on the ground. It is vital to remember that whilst the UK strongly funds the GAVI Alliance’s work more donors are needed to ensure that their work can continue over the next ten years. In fact the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has earmarked 2010 – 2020 as the “Decade of Vaccines” to highlight how important it is to continue scaling up vaccine programmes across the developing world. Countries across Europe should mirror the commitment to vaccines shown by countries such as the UK and organisations like The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Therefore in this week of the Autumn Statement, when the economic outlook may remain gloomy, it is important to retain our commitment to international development and vaccines, which are one of the most cost-effective methods of reducing childhood deaths. If support can be continued then the GAVI Alliance estimates that by 2015 a further quarter of a billion children can be immunised and 4 million more deaths averted. This would be yet another incredible milestone and continue the fight to meet MDG 4 – reduce child mortality by two thirds between 1990 and 2015 – and provide every child with an equal start in life no matter where they live. Some groups will use the Chancellor’s statement as an opportunity to call for a cut to the international development budget. We cannot allow for this to happen whilst vital work of the kind that I am seeing in Tanzania continues to save so many children’s lives.
Jim Dobbin MP is Co-Chair of the APPG for Child Health and Vaccine Preventable Diseases