Saving 4 million lives by 2015: The word is getting out

By Pascal Barollier, Director of Communications at the GAVI Alliance.

“Communication is important, because immunization can become a victim of its own success.”

When Dr K.O. Antwi-Agyei, a disease control program manager in Ghana, spoke these words he was articulating the struggle to communicate the ongoing importance of vaccines to Ghana’s public, in the face of an immunization program successful enough to all but eradicate certain diseases. But does his comment hold true when telling the world about global vaccination progress?

UntitledAt a Ghanaian clinic, which is run out of an empty market stall, community health worker Mavis Adjetey weighs babies before administering vaccines. Courtesy of GAVI.

Back in 2011, GAVI Alliance was challenged with ambitious goals. Partners and donors tasked the Alliance with immunizing 370 million children in the poorest countries in the world and averting 4 million future deaths by 2015. Halfway through the 2011-2015 period, the same partners and donors gathered in Stockholm, Sweden on October 30 of this year to review the progress made to date.

Thanks to an unprecedented scale up in activities, our stakeholders were able to conclude that the Alliance is well on its way to meeting its bold targets.

But we were also facing a different challenge. As we started to tell partners about our progress, many commented that while we were “delivering together” on the promises made in 2011, we were also not doing quite enough to let the world know about these successes. So we reached out.

In the months leading to the Stockholm meeting, a number of partners such as ONE, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Bank, UN Foundation, and World Vision lent their digital platforms to carry the immunization success stories of this daily fight against childhood diseases. And many news media in the US and Europe, and in implementing countries such as Ghana, added context and a critical view to these successes.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reminded us that more has to be done to reach the 20 million children that currently don’t have access to the most basic vaccines. Save the Children issued its own report reviewing GAVI’s progress, and Action produced a scorecard to analyze our achievements and pledges. These joint efforts to inform and review deserve our gratitude, and they will also serve as inspiration in the time to come.

As we look at completing the 2015 objective of saving 4 million lives while setting new and more ambitious goals for 2020, more creative ideas will be needed from GAVI Alliance partners to keep our audiences moved, challenged, interested and engaged.

The word is out, it’s now our task to continue this year’s momentum by sharing more inspiring immunization stories than ever before. This way, by 2015 we’ll have presented a clear picture of the demands, necessity and incredible impact of large-scale immunization, and of why slowing down now is unacceptable.

If we can do this, we will also never lose sight of what lies at the heart of GAVI’s achievements so far: the amazing work conducted with vaccines in the world’s poorest countries every day, where healthcare providers are saving lives, one child and one village at a time.