The only thing better than supporting a worthy cause is seeing the effects of that support.
Last fall, I had the opportunity to visit the Meshuwalekiya Health Centre in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The center was filled with hopeful parents who had brought their children in to be immunized. Vaccination is often taken for granted in the U.S. and Europe, but these parents realized that a simple vaccine would protect their children against potentially fatal illnesses and give them a shot at a healthy life.
As I watched parents filing in and babies being vaccinated, I felt proud that my organization, Lions Clubs International and our Foundation are playing a part in helping children get vaccinated through our partnership with the GAVI Alliance.
GAVI is among the most successful examples of how the private sector can work with governments to deliver effective outcomes.GAVI is a public-private partnership whose mission is to save children’s lives and protect people’s health by increasing access to immunization in developing countries. As global leaders gather this week in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum (WEF) focused, in part, on global development and health, it’s worth noting that GAVI is among the most successful examples of how the private sector can work with governments to deliver effective outcomes.
Global health continues to be a key topic at WEF because companies recognize that their competitiveness and the health of communities where they do business are mutually dependent. They understand that the world’s biggest health challenges have profound economic implications. And one of the most efficient and effective ways to promote global health is through vaccines.
That is why so many private sector organizations have partnered with GAVI, as well as civil society partners like Lions. GAVI not only receives government funding, but also attracts investment from corporate donors and capital markets. The success of this funding model can be seen in GAVI programs. Since 2000, GAVI has helped immunize 440 million children, saving approximately 6 million lives.
Even with GAVI’s success, about 20 percent of the world’s children continue to go unvaccinated, leading to more than 1.5 million avoidable deaths every year.I saw this first-hand at the Meshuwalekiya Health Centre. Outside, there were rows of men and women sitting on wooden benches in a covered courtyard. Babies cried, children played and parents patiently waited. I was ushered into a tent, where health care workers told me about the transformation of Ethiopia’s health care system, using a decentralized approach led by the Ministry of Health in this vast country of 84 million people spread across 1.1 million square km.
Under the plan, Ethiopia:
- Has hired 38,000 health extension workers to provide direct care for children and women.
- Is recruiting a Health Development Army of 3 million female volunteers, each assigned to a handful of neighborhood families, to encourage healthy behavior, including immunization.
- Has increased the number of local health centers to 3,200 from 949 a few years ago, and is assigning to them Health Information Technicians to make data collection more accurate and complete.
- Is upgrading the country’s supply chain system, building a 17-hub, direct-route distribution network for pharmaceuticals, vaccines and medical supplies, with giant warehouses and cold storage facilities being constructed nationwide.
The result is that Ethiopia’s child mortality rate has plummeted from 204 per 1,000 a decade ago to 68 per 1,000 today, according to UN statistics. Remarkably, Ethiopia has met UN Millennium Development Goal 4, reducing child mortality by two-thirds almost three years early.
Lions Clubs International has begun to play a role in this, and we hope to play a much larger one globally through our partnership with GAVI. Even with GAVI’s success, about 20 percent of the world’s children continue to go unvaccinated, leading to more than 1.5 million avoidable deaths every year.
Lions are making a difference. With more than 1.35 million members, we are the largest volunteer service club organization in the world. We have pledged to raise US$30 million for GAVI, which will be doubled through match funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK Government.
The parents I met at Meshuwalekiya Health Centre want for their children what you and I want for ours: health and opportunity.With more than 46,000 Lions clubs around the world, we have volunteers in impacted communities who can publicize vaccination programs, provide vaccine services and educate families about preventable disease. Lions Clubs is working with GAVI to fight measles-rubella, and we are committed to mobilizing our global network and engaging the business community to support these efforts.
The parents I met at Meshuwalekiya Health Centre want for their children what you and I want for ours: health and opportunity. They know that vaccines provide the foundation for both because they have seen so many unvaccinated children die or become disabled.
The Lions’ motto is, “We serve,” and we stand with those in need. But we know that we can serve many more people and impact countless more lives when we work together with exceptional partners like the GAVI Alliance.