On 27 Sept, the GAVI Alliance announced approval for 37 more countries to receive vaccines against childhood diarrhea and pneumonia. The vaccination campaigns are slated to start by the end of 2012, with hopes to reach 90 million children by 2015. GAVI has committed $1 billion to the increased push in vaccination, a move that Tanzanian health attaché Dr. Catherine Sanga believes will “reduce child deaths and help us achieve the Millennium Development Goals.” Of the 37 countries approved for funding, 24 are in Africa.
The announcement marks GAVI’s largest funding commitment to date. To receive funding, countries must make an application requesting specific vaccines. GAVI will then assess if the country has the ability and infrastructure to properly store and distribute the vaccines, which generally must be refrigerated to be viable. If the country’s request is approved, GAVI will procure the vaccines from global manufacturers and work with local partners to deliver them. GlaxoSmithKline, Merck and Pfizer have all agreed to supply the vaccines in question to GAVI at a reduced cost. In recent years, GAVI has slashed the lag time between a vaccine becoming available on the Western market and that vaccine reaching poorer countries. In the past, this could take as long as 15-20 years; by contrast, the current rotavirus vaccine was approved for use in the United States just five years ago.
The vaccines to be distributed include those against rotavirus and pneumococcal disease. These vaccines prevent the leading causes of death in children under five, diarrhea and pneumonia. Rotavirus is the number one cause of severe diarrhea in children, responsible for up to 40 percent of diarrhea cases and killing more than half a million children each year. Fifty percent of rotavirus deaths are in Africa. Rotavirus vaccination campaigns have previously been rolled out in South America and proven very successful; when introduced in Mexico in 2006, the vaccine resulted in a 46 percent reduction in the number of children under five dying from diarrhea.
Infection by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae, commonly referred to as pneumococcal disease, is the leading cause of childhood acute respiratory infection (ARI) deaths. Though disease surveillance systems and diagnostic facilities in the developing world are incomplete and the true burden can only be estimated, S. pneumoniae is believed to account for more than one-third of the 2 million annual global child deaths from ARIs. The expanded distribution of the pneumococcal vaccine, along with the rotavirus vaccine, is sure to save the lives of many of the world’s poorest children.