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GAVI MOU Signing Ceremony The Great Hall of the People

Imagen del UNICEF

Beijing, China
1 June 2002

Honorable Minister of Health and GAVI partners, I am very pleased to be here today to participate in this significant event. It is significant for a number of reasons, the most important of which is that many more children will now have the opportunity to be immunized against hepatitis B and be able to live healthy and productive lives.

Today-the 1st of June-and, appropriately, International Children's Day, the government of China is signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Boards of the GAVI and The Vaccine Fund. This MOU represents a shared commitment to increasing children's access to hepatitis B vaccines through China's Expanded--and expanding--Program of Immunization.

What is GAVI? GAVI is an alliance of partners which aims to address the growing gap between developed and developing countries in access to new and under-used vaccines. GAVI partners also work together with countries to strengthen immunization programs and increase coverage of traditional childhood vaccines as well as prepare the ground for the introduction of new vaccines. Emerging issues in immunization, such as injection safety, have also become a key component of GAVI and Vaccine Fund awards, and is a critical part of the project in China which we are inaugurating today.

Hepatitis B is a global health problem causing nearly one million deaths every year. China accounts for almost one third of all these deaths. Hepatitis B-related liver cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in Chinese men, resulting in 300,000- 400,000 deaths each year. Hepatitis B accounts for 95% of all liver cancers in China, and children are at high risk.

Like hepatitis B, unsafe injections are a significant public health problem in China. To address this problem, over 500 million auto-disable syringes will be provided to China's immunization program as part of the GAVI and Vaccine Fund support. These one-time use syringes will help prevent the unnecessary spread of diseases such as hepatitis and AIDS. One of the challenges ahead will be to ensure safe disposal of these syringes.

The challenge of hepatitis B, like AIDS, is that it is "hidden" and its debilitating impact takes a long time to emerge. The difference, of course, is that we have an effective vaccine for hepatitis B. Childhood is a critical time in life. It is a time when we have an opportunity to protect a child's future, and vaccines are one of the most cost-effective, powerful tools to guarantee a child's health.

This effort we are launching today must be commended because it is particularly targeted to reaching the unreached children-those living in remote or poor areas in the country. A key mission of GAVI partners is to ensure that all children, everywhere, receive the vaccines they need. This is also fundamental to achieving the Millennium Development Goals which call for reducing childhood illness and death around the world. This initiative we are launching today has a special focus on children in the 12 poorest provinces in the country.

China is also to be congratulated for its political commitment and leadership in this initiative. The country has mobilized internal resources to match the funds allocated by GAVI and the Vaccine Fund, demonstrating the high level of commitment by the government. No other country that has applied for vaccines or funds through GAVI, has allocated such high levels of additional funding to their immunization program. This national commitment is essential to the program's sustainability and a model for other countries.

Finally, partners have played a valuable role in this effort. A strong, functioning Interagency Coordinating Committee-or ICC--is an integral part of an effective immunization program, and China has demonstrated a genuine and committed collaboration of partners. Partnerships at country level are key to reaching national goals, as well as contributing to global goals. While GAVI is a Global Alliance, its success depends on effective local alliances.

I look forward to seeing the results of this significant effort and congratulate your collective efforts.