[ASC-media] Vaccines, PNG, children dying: Time to act

Niall Byrne niall at scienceinpublic.com.au
Thu Apr 10 05:46:47 CEST 2008


Children in PNG are ten times more likely to die before their 5th
birthday than Australian children.

Tomorrow, GAVI Alliance Executive Secretary Julian Lob-Levyt is speaking
on the challenge of saving millions of lives in developing countries, at
a public forum in Melbourne.

In the next few weeks a new vaccine program will start in PNG thanks to
the GAVI Alliance - an organisation founded by the Bill and Melinda
Gates Foundation - and AusAID. It's part of a new private-public
partnership approach to saving children's lives and building sustainable
economies - one that's attracting billions of dollars of investment.

*	
	All are welcome to attend the public forum - details are below.
*	
	Julian has written an op-ed based on his talk - a copy is
included below. 

Public forum:

Dr Julian Lob-Levyt, Director of GAVI Alliance

will speak about: The Evolving Architecture of Global Health

When: Friday 11th April, 12.30-1.30

Where: University of Melbourne Medical Building, Cnr Grattan St and
Royal Parade, 3rd floor W312, ESJ King Theatre

 
Kind regards, 
 
Niall
 
 
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Niall Byrne

Science in Public

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skype: niall_byrne


 

Fulfilling the promise of science for the poorest children

 

By Julian Lob-Levyt

 

Poor nations can't develop if their children and mothers aren't healthy
enough to make it to adulthood. And that's a big sustainability issue
for Australia's closest neighbours, one that requires new approaches.
Australia has an important role to play.

 

Some of the thorniest problems in global health have been successfully
tackled by Australian scientists. Two Melbourne researchers, Ruth Bishop
and Ian Holmes, discovered rotavirus, the cause of a diarrheal disease
that kills 600,000 children every year. A Queenslander, Ian Frazer,
played a pivotal role in the development of the first two vaccines
against the human papilloma virus (HPV), primary cause of the cervical
cancer responsible for the deaths of more than 200,000 women a year in
the developing world.

 

Getting immunisation science and technology right is just part of the
solution. Without access to vaccines, two million children in developing
countries, including Australia's closest neighbours, are killed by
preventable diseases are barely recognisable to parents in wealthy
nations. Children in Papua New Guinea, for instance, are ten times more
likely than Australian children to die before their fifth birthday.

 

It is this gross inequity that Australia is now helping remedy, as part
of a global alliance to deliver the benefits of science to the world's
most vulnerable children.

 

In 2006, AusAID committed $A 21.7 million over four years to support the
Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) joining political
and scientific leaders worldwide in supporting the work of this
public-private partnership, which includes the World Health
Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank, the Bill & Melinda Gates
Foundation and donor governments and developing countries. GAVI's
primary mission is to provide basic and new vaccines to the world's 27
million poorest children. 

 

This month, in Papua New Guinea, with Australian technical assistance
and funds from GAVI, public health authorities will begin a nationwide
immunisation effort that will protect local children for the first time
against Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), a deadly and important
cause of meningitis and pneumonia. Hib kills 400,000 children in
developing countries every year. The vaccine PNG has chosen to introduce
also covers Hepatitis B and three other diseases.

 

Governments elsewhere in the Pacific have been offered GAVI support for
Hib vaccination. Top of the list are The Solomon Islands and Kiribati;
Indonesia has said it will introduce the vaccine in 2009. Governments
must be convinced of the impact and cost-effectiveness of a vaccine
before agreeing to introduce it, because the process is not an easy one.
Challenges include poor or nonexistent roads, shortages of health
workers, and a dearth of health facilities. Vaccines alone are not
enough, but once they are able to do their work, the impact can be
dramatic. For that, effective basic health services are an essential
prerequisite for their delivery.

 

WHO researchers reported recently that Uganda, one of the first African
countries to implement a widespread Hib vaccination programme, saw a
nearly 100 percent drop in Hib Meningitis five years later, saving the
lives of 5,000 children every year. Similar success has been achieved in
Bangladesh, Kenya, Chile and the Gambia.  Studies show that Hib vaccine
cuts the incidence of disease by 88% or more within 3 to 5 years.

 

Vaccines have a central, cost effective, and transforming role to play
in helping to save lives in poor nations. Bill & Melinda Gates have said
that "childhood immunisation is undoubtedly the best investment we have
ever made".

 

Australia and other donor nations are doing their part. More can be
done. Additional lives can be saved; illness and disability prevented,
and huge potential realised for educated and productive future
populations. But only if wealthy nations continue to ensure that
cutting-edge technologies reach children in poor nations. A whole new
pipeline of vaccines is coming on stream. They need to be financed. In
an interconnected world and globalising economy, it is no longer
acceptable that vaccines be denied for 15 years for reasons of cost. In
the words of renowned Australian immunologist Gus Nossal, "Vaccines buy
you a lot of health for a small amount of money."

 

 

Dr. Julian Lob-Levyt is executive secretary of the GAVI Alliance.

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