It’s a no-brainer: fighting Ebola and saving children’s lives

It’s a no-brainer: fighting Ebola and saving children’s lives

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This piece is excerpted and edited from the original post in the Lancet Global Health Blog.

Ebola has generated news around the world as an unprecedented global health crisis requiring urgent global action. At the same time, far from the headlines, millions of children continue to die from simple, preventable diseases like pneumonia and diarrhea. Vaccines are some of the lowest-cost, highest-impact ways to help reduce these deaths, and yet today nearly one in five children around the world does not have access to these life-saving interventions.

Mothers in Malawi wait in line to have their children immunized. Photo Credit: Tormod Simensen, RESULTS UK

Mothers in Malawi wait in line to have their children immunized. Photo Credit: Tormod Simensen, RESULTS UK

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, finances the purchase of vaccines in more than 70 of the world’s poorest countries and works to shape vaccine markets, aimed at generating more suppliers and lower prices. As an alliance of national governments, donors, the private sector, and technical health partners such as WHO and UNICEF, Gavi draws on unique skills for better collaboration, innovation and results.

To date, Gavi has had tremendous success in strengthening developing countries’ immunization programs and saving children’s lives. Since 2000, Gavi has supported the immunization of some 440 million children and has saved more than 6 million lives. 

Credit: Gates Notes

By the end of 2015, Gavi will have contributed to preventing nearly 4 million future deaths. Credit: Gates Notes

But even the most effective health programs cannot continue to succeed without new funding.

In order to continue scaling up its important work, Gavi will need an additional $7.5 billion from donors for 2016-20, culminating in a replenishment meeting hosted in just a few weeks by Germany. Gavi projects that these resources could immunize an additional 300 million children and save 5-6 million more lives.

In the coming weeks, world leaders will decide how much they are willing to invest in Gavi. Early signs from donors are promising, with increases already pledged by Norway, Canada and the EU and a £1 billion commitment from the UK (already Gavi’s largest donor). But overall success is far from guaranteed and many donors must match their own bold rhetoric with bold new pledges. In particular, our eyes are on countries such as USA, France, Japan, Italy, Sweden, Netherlands, and Australia, as well as the German hosts. Each as a choice to make about what message they send and how many lives they want to save.

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Global health emergencies like Ebola may grab headlines. But it is these emergencies that show us why it is more important than ever to step up investments in complementary health programs that can save lives and help build up systems.

The Ebola crisis highlights that we cannot be satisfied with insufficient resources for any one health program. We must re-evaluate how we can invest in and build more resilient health systems across some of the world’s poorest countries, because the toll of Ebola has extended far beyond the 8000 deaths it has caused directly. New data shows routine immunization rates have dropped from 97% to a staggering 27% this year in Liberia alone. Until we can ensure that even the most fragile countries are prepared for future outbreaks, many of the hard-earned gains in global health to date stand to crumble with alarming speed.

As we approach the 2015 deadline of the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the world has made impressive gains on reducing child deaths (MDG 4). We have roughly halved the number of under-5 deaths since 1990. Yet at current rates of progress, the world will not meet MDG 4 until 2026, resulting in tens of millions of more deaths. This is unacceptable. In order to reverse these trends and make faster progress, donors must prioritize resources for programs like Gavi, which will save children’s lives in the most cost-effective ways, alongside resources for Ebola and other threats.

We as a global health community have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, ensuring that preventing a death from Ebola doesn’t mean a child dies from a another preventable disease instead.

The world has the power to ensure we both contain the Ebola outbreak and make sure all children can grow up healthy, regardless of where they were born. But doing so will require leaders around the world to step up to tackle these challenges together, with urgency.

Take Action NOW and sign this petition asking President Obama to give Gavi the increased funding it deserves.

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