I am delighted that today the GAVI Alliance’s pledging conference for immunisations is taking place in London. As a UK parliamentarian it is an honour for us to be hosting such a landmark conference and I think that it reflects the commitment that the UK Coalition Government (of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats) has shown to international development.
For the past four years I have been an officer of the UK All Party Parliamentary Group for Global Action Against Childhood Pneumonia (APPG). Our group is made up of MPs and Lords from all parties in both Houses of Parliament. I have witnessed first hand the impact that lifesaving vaccines, such as the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, can make in the developing world.
Pneumonia is one of the biggest killers of children in the developing world accounting for nearly 20% of all under 5 child deaths. Through the work of the APPG I have seen the toll this takes on countries. For many years I have had close links with parliamentarians, doctors and friends in Bangladesh. According to the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Diseases and Research, Bangladesh, 55,000 children die every year of pneumonia in Bangladesh making it the leading cause of childhood mortality. This burden is enormous and places a huge restraint on country, as so many of their young are lost at an early age.
But, reducing the impact is possible as Bangladesh has shown. In 2009 Bangladesh introduced the HIB vaccine, which is estimated to save up to 20,000 lives every year. It is extraordinary that a third of Bangladesh’s childhood mortality from pneumonia is able to be cut from the introduction of one vaccine.
That is why today’s conference is so important. Countries such as Bangladesh need the help of the GAVI Alliance to introduce life-saving vaccines. But the GAVI Alliance cannot carry out this work unless donors provide the financial support they need, which is estimated to be $3.7 billion.
I am pleased that the UK has agreed to meet an increased share of this cost and today we need others to follow suit. We already know that for instance, Australia is increasing its contribution tenfold, a brilliant start to the day! This and other generous help will enable the GAVI Alliance to immunise 243 million children and save four million deaths by 2015. It is undoubtedly a huge amount of money, but donors such as the UK say it’s the most cost-effective they know of. Countries such as Kenya, Yemen, Nicaragua and Sierra Leone have introduced the vaccine and are now able to fight back against this terrible disease and other countries deserve a similar opportunity.
On behalf of the APPG I urge governments and organisations across the world to help meet the GAVI Alliance’s funding gap and help give countries the chance to reduce the deadly impact of this preventable, protectable and treatable disease.
Lord Avebury is Co-Chair of the UK All Party Parliamentary Group for Global Action Against Childhood Pneumonia.
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