By Amy Graff, a ONE Girls and Women Advisory Board member
Three years ago I met a woman, who I’ll call Mari, and her newborn baby at a makeshift medical clinic that had taken over a school in rural Ghana. This wasn’t a schoolhouse by Western standards, but rather a simple, open-air cinder block structure and on that day it was overflowing with dozens of mothers with babies tied onto their backs with colorful sarongs and children pulling at their arms.
More mothers and their children waited outside parked under leafy trees in tattered lawn chairs on the grassy lawn.
The crowd was gathered for the historic rollout of two vaccines to protect children from rotavirus and pneumonia, the biggest killers of children under age 5 in the developing world. In the United States, these diseases are simply nuisances but in other parts of the world they can be deadly.
Mari had walked miles from a neighboring village to reach the clinic and the huge smile on her face showed she was thrilled to be getting her child the newly available vaccines. She had cried with the mothers of babies who’d died from these diseases, watched their sheer happiness turn to deep sorrow. Here she was receiving gifts from heaven that could potentially allow her child to experience a full and long life.
This tiny West African nation was the first country to ever introduce two vaccines at once, and the effort was paid for by the Ghanaian government and the Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which is the world’s largest funder of vaccines in poor countries. This global partnership bringing together both public and private sectors aims to create equal access to vaccines for children no matter where they live.
Since 2000, Gavi has supported the immunization of 440 million children and has saved more than 6 million lives.
This month, world leaders are gathering to announce their financial commitments to Gavi over the next five years. The goal is to raise $7.5 billion and for the United States to kick-in at least $1 billion. This would immunize 300 million children and save more than 5 million additional lives.