Not all children have the same lucky escape as Abdul, a young boy in Sierra Leone whose very life was in jeopardy only a few months ago, when I visited.
Abdul was severely dehydrated, weak from diarrhoea and barely able to move. He was suffering from rotavirus the leading cause of death due to diarrhoea in children under five. But he need not have suffered: vaccines are now available to prevent severe rotavirus disease. We made a video about Abdul’s fight to stay alive. Watch it here.
In May, I witnessed the ravages of rotavirus and other vaccine-preventable diseases on children, families and communities in Sierra Leone – Abdul’s home country. It was a humbling experience and gave a renewed sense of purpose to my work for the GAVI Alliance (the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation).
GAVI’s mission is to save children’s lives and protect people’s health by increasing access to immunisation in poor countries, where infrastructure, clinics, health workers and even refrigeration to preserve vaccines are limited. I saw people in Sierra Leone so committed to children’s health that they strapped coolboxes full of vaccines to their backs and travelled by bicycle on dirt roads to reach remote villages, delivering vitamin A and micronutrients at the same time.
Photo credit: GAVI/11/Doune Porter
Health authorities have used immunisation as a foundation on which to build other basic healthcare services – healthy kids mean healthy moms, communities and societies. When I attended immunisation events at local health centers, I saw mothers also receive instruction on nutrition, hygiene and breastfeeding, often through song and dance. It was inspiring.
Thanks to GAVI and its many partners, the same vaccines that are available to children in rich nations are being rolled out across developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America faster than ever before. With sufficient funds, GAVI will be able to vaccinate more than 250 million children in the world’s poorest countries by 2015, and save an estimated four million lives.
Now, the private sector can join GAVI in its mission by helping it raise sufficient funds through a unique public-private partnership to help protect children like Abdul from preventable diseases, and by becoming part of a global coalition seeking to provide access to vaccines for all children, regardless of where they are born.
Through the GAVI Matching Fund, private companies and foundations can greatly leverage their contributions to global health. That’s because every dollar contributed to the Matching Fund by the private sector, their customers, employees and even business partners is matched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or, in the case of British companies, by the British government. They have pledged US$50 million and UK£50 million, respectively – the equivalent of US$130 million, which, if matched by private contributions, will raise US$260 million for immunisation.
The Matching Fund is a smart investment not only for global health – it is aligned with U.N. Millennium Development Goal 4: reduce by two-thirds the mortality rate of children younger than five years by 2015 – but also an opportunity to champion a global initiative alongside our world class partners.
Launched this summer, the initiative now has four private sector partners: the “la Caixa” Foundation, J.P. Morgan, AngloAmerican and Absolute Return for Kids (ARK).
The GAVI Matching Fund is an important innovation in global health financing. And it is certainly needed. Without additional resources for immunisation, a child will die every 20 seconds due to a vaccine-preventable disease. But for every $3 million donation, for instance - matched by GAVI's donors - GAVI could buy enough vaccines to immunise 511,000 children against pneumococcal disease in 2012, or 980,000 children against rotavirus.
The GAVI Matching Fund promotes awareness and advocacy for immunisation by engaging private sector management, employees and consumers; helps support new vaccines (we hope one for malaria is very near); and helps ensure that all children – like Abdul, who survived after being treated in a local hospital – have access to life-saving vaccines.
This is a rare chance to be part of something that is guaranteed to change the lives of millions of people for the better. If you work for a company and think it might be interested in becoming GAVI’s next corporate partner, please send an e-mail to Marian Leitner at firstname.lastname@example.org.