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A Breath of Fresh Norwegian Air

October 23, 2013

There is no question that progress in global health requires the engagement of a range of actors doing their part to achieve a shared vision. All must pull their weight. Some, however, do far more – contributing financial and human capital at levels one might not think possible, helping achieve tremendous impact in the process.

Consider two examples: The country of Norway, and the international not-for-profit Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF)

Despite a population of just under five million – roughly equivalent to that of the state of South Carolina – Norway is an undisputed global health superpower, contributing more than US$1.5 billion to create and sustain both the GAVI Alliance and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and leading global efforts to prioritize Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5. Thanks to the commitment of leaders like former Norwegian Prime Ministers Gro Harlem Brundtland and Jens Stoltenberg, Norway has played an unparalleled role in making vaccination a reality in the developing world.

Similarly, MSF is a vocal, influential NGO that specializes in delivering health services on the front lines of conflict and in ‘last-mile’ communities. Each year, MSF deploys approximately 30,000 local staff and volunteers to provide medical care and consultation to an estimated 10 million people – many of whom reside in the world’s most remote and troubled regions, including the unstable and life-threatening conflict zones others abandon once trouble erupts.

Last week – at a seminar held in Norway and hosted by MSF – partners spanning the global health community met to discuss the challenges faced in delivering vaccines for all children, everywhere. In spite of our best efforts, each year, more than 20 million children do not complete their basic immunizations. The group meeting in Norway explored how adapting vaccines and vaccine systems to last-mile challenges could help solve this problem. 

The good news is that, thanks to heavyweight partners like these, there is a lot to celebrate. The determination and experience of MSF’s delivery teams provide a much-needed reminder of the urgency in our work and what’s possible with dedicated, supported staff. And dedicated immunization efforts – rooted in the contributions Norway and other partners have made to the GAVI Alliance – have shown tremendous success. For example, a recent campaign that reached 1.8 million children with the MenAfriVac vaccine in Chad – a country situated squarely in Africa’s meningitis belt and routinely ravaged by the disease – resulted in an unprecedented 94 percent reduction in meningitis cases.

There’s still much work to be done to achieve the MDGs and to reach children everywhere with the care they need. Now just imagine what might be possible if every one of us punched above our weight the way that Norway and MSF do.   

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