10 June 2002
Honourable Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, distinguished guests on the dais, GAVI partners, ladies and gentlemen, I am speaking today on behalf of Ms. Carol Bellamy, Unicef Executive Director and Chair of the Board for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation. Ms. Bellamy would have wished, more than it is possible to convey, to be here and partake in this celebration.
This is a historic moment -- a landmark in the history of India's immunisation programme-one of the most fundamental public health interventions that saves lives and ensures the protection of children.
The challenge of hepatitis B, like AIDS, is that it is "hidden" and its debilitating impact takes a long time to emerge. The difference is that there is an effective vaccine for hepatitis B. By immunising children against hepatitis B, they will be protected from the negative effects of the disease and have the opportunity for a healthy and productive future.
The goals of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation of which India is a member are to assist in addressing the growing gap between developed and developing world in their access to vaccines and to revitalise global immunisation coverage.
The Global Alliance can only play a catalytic role; it is countries themselves that can ensure sustainable immunisation coverage, and it is countries, such as India, that are going to make the difference in the global situation of immunisation.
To succeed in this endeavour, three (3) things are needed: leadership, effective partnership and sustained investments.
LEADERSHIP is crucial to the success of the initiative. The presence and active role of the Prime Minister in launching this effort speaks to the high level of leadership and commitment to immunisation and the health of children in India. The Minister of Health, Dr. Thakur, has demonstrated significant leadership in moving this initiative forward.
PARTNERSHIP is crucial to the effectiveness of this new initiative, which was jointly planned and endorsed by all immunisation partners, including WHO, the Children's Vaccine Programme/PATH, the World Bank, European Union and other bilateral organisations. The effective implementation and overall success of the effort will depend on sustained co-ordination throughout all stages of expansion.
INCREASED AND SUSTAINED INVESTMENT of resources - human, financial and material - are necessary to ensure that the commitment expressed here remains a reality and becomes a platform for action.
Ladies and Gentlemen: This Hepatitis B launch is not a separate, vertical initiative. What we are celebrating today is the introduction of a new life-saving vaccine that complements the other six existing child vaccines. In doing so, we are taking a bold step to strengthen ongoing routine immunisation services. The phased introduction of Hepatitis B will focus on reaching children who are often the last to be reached -- in slum areas in 15 cities initially and then expanded to 32 rural districts in selected states. I commend the Government of India for taking this decision, with support from its partners in immunisation.
To fulfil the promise of Hepatitis B as a cutting edge initiative to strengthen the immunisation system, another critical component of this effort is the wider spread use of auto-disable syringes-syringes which have a mechanism to prevent their re-use - and therefore prevent the spread of further disease, such as hepatitis B and HIV/AIDS. This is a decisive step in strengthening the public health sector. I therefore applaud the important work of the India Coalition for Injection Safety for their recognition and promotion that safe injections are crucial to the overall effectiveness of immunisation.
I congratulate India in its focus on strengthening its overall immunisation programme--using the introduction of hepatitis B vaccine as a catalyst to address a larger health concern. A stronger immunisation programme will no doubt ensure that the huge investment and achievements towards polio eradication will not be lost, but sustained. Ultimately, a stronger immunisation programme will leverage the existing health infrastructure to take on additional integrated health services for children.
Finally, I would like to congratulate the Prime Minister, the Minister of Health and Family Welfare on the bold act that they have taken today - an example of leadership for many countries around the globe.
We will look back in ten years time - when polio will have been eradicated and routine immunisation rates have been sustained at high levels - and today's milestone will be recognised by others as a day when "children were put first on the agenda."
Let there be many more such days.