The Vietnamese have a saying that, loosely translated, means adversity brings wisdom and gives birth to creativity. It’s an age-old proverb that rings true for me today, as I reflect on my recent time in Southeast Asia.
I traveled to Hanoi last week to attend the Developing Country Vaccine Manufacturers Network’s Annual Meeting (quite a mouthful, I realize). The DCVMN is a group of more than 38 vaccine manufacturers from 14 countries and territories, who work together to increase the quality of vaccines and access to them. Being from developing countries means they are at the most demanding of frontlines, facing the great task of immunizing the world’s most underserved populations. They must be tight in their coordination, aggressive in their pursuit of a better product, and innovative in their navigation of regulatory pathways. I had a chance to meet with more than 10 companies and visit one of them – Biofarma in Bandung, Indonesia.
As the Vietnamese saying goes, it is precisely the adversity faced by the DCVMN that has allowed this vast network to birth creativity and wisdom, and write one of the best global health stories of the last few years: more than two thirds of the world’s children get their vaccines from DCVMs; more than 50% of GAVI’s vaccine suppliers are DCVMs; and because of the work of the DCVMs, 370 million more children have been vaccinated since 2001 – with a 36% drop in cost in just the last two years. The DCVMs have also played a key role in contributing to global health’s most powerful metric: annual under five mortality dropped to 6.6M in 2012, down from more than three times that level in 1960.
Our job as a foundation is to continuously buoy our partners, and be advocates for regulatory, technological and financial support, to ensure that they can provide the best quality of vaccines at a cost that can be scaled.
Our commitment to the DCVMN is to remain a steadfast enabler of partnerships that can provide better prices and safer supplies. We are committed to scanning the world for innovations in vaccine development that we can share with DCVMs; to working with our partners in India and China to provide scientific and technical assistance that helps minimize regulatory delays that prevent drugs from reaching their targeted destinations; and to discovering new vaccines that are low-cost, single-dose and thermostable.
Many challenges remain. But the rewards, much like the great progress we’ve seen come out of the DCVMs so far, give much reason to be optimistic. There’s another Vietnamese saying I learned this week: if you sharpen steel long enough, eventually you’ll have needles. While my translation is probably quite poor, its message holds many riches. I know that if we keep working diligently at overcoming the adversity before us, we will reach our goals of vaccinating every man, woman and child in Vietnam, the rest of the developing world, and beyond.