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On the Delivery of the First GAVI Vaccines to Africa

Imagen del UNICEF

Boane, Mozambique - 6 April 2001

President Chissano, Minister Songane, Excellencies, Mr. Gates, President Martin, Ms Machel, Fellow Members of the GAVI Board, Members of the Press, Ladies and Gentlemen:

We are here today to celebrate an important moment in a global crusade to protect millions of children against vaccine-preventable disease - and I cannot imagine a more inspiring setting than this clinic.

For today marks the first delivery to the African continent of vaccines procured by the year-old partnership known as GAVI (the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation), and financed by the Global Fund for Children's Vaccines, founded in 1999 with a $750 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the vaccines being handed over to Mozambique today are powerful armaments in a stepped-up drive to see to it that every child in the world receives the immunisation they need, using every effective vaccine available.

It is a goal that will require all the commitment and resources that we can muster.

Every year, some 2 million children die because they are not immunised against common childhood diseases, the overwhelming majority of them in the world's poorest and most strife-torn regions.

These deaths - and the incalculable loss of human potential they represent - are more than needless. They are economically ruinous - and, on the most fundamental human level, they are legally, morally and ethically unacceptable.

They are unacceptable not only because they are preventable through immunisation, but because the children of the world - including the hundreds of millions trapped in grinding poverty and economic crisis and armed strife - have a right to a better future, beginning with the right to survive, and to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health.

Over the last decade, 191 countries - virtually the entire community of nations have affirmed their responsibility to uphold and protect these and other rights by ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child, history's most acclaimed human-rights instrument.

Indeed, the same movement that gave the world the Child Rights Convention helped bring about the greatest advances in child immunisation ever achieved - successes literally unimaginable two decades ago, when just 5 per cent of infants in developing countries were immunised against the six major vaccine-preventable diseases.

Ladies and Gentlemen, UNICEF and its partners are here today because we have a historic opportunity to go further, and make the most effective vaccines available to every single child.
The vaccines being turned over to Mozambique today represent the first half of a shipment of 1.3 million doses of DTP-hepB, which will protect infants not only against diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough, but hepatitis B, complications of which annually kill nearly a million adults around the world who were never immunised as children. Studies in Mozambique show that approximately 1 of every 5 adults are chronically infected with hepatitis.

Ladies and Gentlemen, procuring and delivering vaccines are only one aspect of a complex process - a process in which close collaboration between governments and other GAVI partners is essential.

Vaccine safety is as important as the vaccines themselves - and that is why auto-disable syringes are also being provided, which reduce the need for cumbersome sterilisation equipment and make injections safer. It is also why the immunisation drive includes training health workers in safe immunisation practices.

In Mozambique, where severe flooding and great distances have made it difficult for many families to reach health centers, success will also hinge on investments that will bring immunisation within reach, along with other basic-health measures, such as vitamin A supplements.

At the same time, education and public outreach is needed to help community leaders appreciate the benefits of immunisation. And we must work with families so they will demand immunisation services - and make an extra effort to use them.

Mr. President, the happy occasion that has brought us here today is most of all a testament to the power of partnerships like GAVI, a coalition of business leaders, philanthropic foundations, development banks, national governments - and partners in the UN System, including the World Health Organisation, the World Bank and UNICEF.

UNICEF is deeply committed to this alliance - and we are grateful to Bill and Melinda Gates for the moral vision that led them to establish the Global Fund for Children's Vaccines, which has made it possible for children in the poorest countries of the world to begin benefitting from new and improved vaccines.

At the same time, generous financial and technical support has come from industrialised nations, including Norway, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States.

We are also encouraged that the business community, including the transnational pharmaceutical industry, is becomingly increasingly pro-active in searching for ways to make vaccines and other vital medical items more available and affordable.

These efforts come as private citizens the world over, as well as NGOs like PATH (the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health) continue to work with governments and communities to make immunisation services more effective.

But by far the most important partners in this effort are the national and local governments in countries where immunisation efforts are focused, which are ultimately responsible for working with communities and families to ensure that every child is reached.

In Mozambique, UNICEF is committed to helping to develop the broadest possible access to immunisation and other health services, with emphasis on reaching the unreached. This entails strengthening our support for safe storage and transport of vaccines as we work closely with the Government to implement strategies to control measles and neonatal tetanus - while pressing forward on polio eradication.

Mr. President, the work of GAVI and the Global Fund is proof that every one of us has the power to change the world for, and with, children.

To that end, UNICEF has begun working with all our partners to help mobilise a Global Movement for Children - a worldwide campaign to build a shared sense of responsibility for the well-being of every child on earth as we prepare for the UN General Assembly's Special Session on Children in September, when a critical plan of action for children over the next decade will be adopted.

To succeed, the Global Movement will need to enlist not only established leaders, but people of influence representing every level of civil society, from non-governmental organisations, religious groups and private enterprise to people's movements, academia and the media, community and grassroots groups, families - and children themselves.

Thanks to former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa and his wife, Graça Machel, this country's former Education Minister, the work has already begun.

They have assumed a direct and personal role in organising a global partnership of leaders from every sphere to act on a basic recognition - that if we want a more just, equitable and thriving world, we must invest in children now.

Ladies and Gentlemen, there are few investments that yield greater returns than immunisation.

Thank you.