Urges Industry Leaders to Work with Public Sector to Reach UnreachedLYON, 11 October 2004 -- Delivering the keynote address to the World Vaccine Congress, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy laid out a strategy for closing the gap between children protected by routine immunization and the millions of children still left out, saying a voluntary "coalition of the powerful" is needed to reach those children still not protected by immunization.
“Industry, governments, and community leaders have a moral obligation and a vested interest in closing the gap between the reached and unreached,” said Bellamy. “We’ve made progress before, but much more needs to be done to end stubborn inequities that cost millions of children's lives.”
In the 1980s, the world accelerated immunization coverage in an unprecedented fashion, reaching over 70 per cent of children globally with the “basic six” vaccines (against whooping cough, measles, diphtheria, polio, tuberculosis and tetanus). Yet this global average has not changed since 1990. Two million children still die needlessly each year from vaccine-preventable diseases. Some 17 countries, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, are suffering the effects of immunization coverage that is well under 50 per cent.
Bellamy is pressing for a three pronged approach to getting beyond this plateau.
First: Reach more children with proven vaccines. The vaccine industry must ensure the steady supply of basic, lower cost, but effective vaccines. Ensuring a steady demand and supply for these vaccines is the first step to reaching all children. UNICEF has worked with industry successfully to guarantee an uninterrupted flow of affordable vaccines. That cooperation must continue and grow in the future, Bellamy said.
Second: Link routine immunization to other health interventions. "The polio eradication effort has shown us that we have the capacity to reach every child, even those in the most remote places or those marginalized, socially, culturally or economically," Bellamy said. She said it is now vital to take this example and ensure children receive all the basic vaccines, as well as other needed health interventions, during immunization sessions.
“The lesson here is: If we can come this close to eradicating polio, there is no excuse for not ridding the world of killers like measles, too,” Bellamy declared.
To this end governments must mobilize the human and financial resources necessary to bring regular immunization campaigns to the communities and homes of those families that cannot reach the health system, she said.
"We have to work hard to make sure parents and caretakers of young children understand the importance of immunization. Continued communication with the public and health workers on the benefits of immunization is very important, and the public and private sectors need to collaborate closely on this to overcome barriers caused by perceptions that vaccines are not safe or that immunization is no longer necessary," she added.
Third: Introduce advanced vaccines at affordable prices. Research breakthroughs are bringing a bumper crop of future vaccines closer to production, including those designed to protect against rotavirus, human papilloma virus, pnuemococcal infection, dengue fever and even malaria. These are central to meeting the Millennium Development Goal of reducing child mortality and, in the case of the human papilloma virus, to addressing the serious problem of cervical cancer in young women. But the likely high cost of these vaccines will put them far beyond the reach of those who most need them.
The three-pronged approach outlined by Bellamy is part of a Global Vision and Strategy for Immunization jointly developed by UNICEF and WHO.
“We must find innovative ways to ensure that the neediest children have access to these breakthrough vaccines, even if that means challenging the industry’s most fundamental business and financial principles,” said Bellamy. “Industry and the public sector must collaborate to make this happen for no other reason than it is the right thing to do.”
UNICEF last week released a global survey of child mortality that showed that 98 countries are off track in their efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goal of a two-thirds reduction in child mortality by 2015 (the baseline year is 1990). It revealed that child mortality is either stagnant or rising in countries plagued by conflict or HIV/AIDS. Such countries are also general suffering from lagging rates of immunization coverage.
"It's clear that we have to learn some new tricks to reach the goals the world has set for itself," Bellamy observed. "The strongest possible partnership between the private and public sectors is a crucial first step, both in ensuring a steady, affordable supply of vaccines and in making sure it reaches the children who are hardest to reach. It's a double challenge."
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