08 February 2012
Seth Berkley is CEO of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), a public-private partnership dedicated to spreading immunisation across the world. Bringing together developing nations with donors, vaccine industries with inter-national organisations like the WHO and Unicef and philanthropists like the Gates Foundation with civil society, Berkley spoke with Kounteya Sinha about the exciting moment we are witnessing in global health today, growing equity between rich and poor nations in health - and how a shot in the arm could save a child's life:How have vaccines helped in bringing down mortality across the globe?
About 50 years ago, vaccine-preventable diseases were common and commonly feared. But thanks to the enormous progress in vaccine development and use, many of these diseases today are a distant memorya¦as a result, fewer and fewer children are dying around the world from disease - from 12 million deaths each year in 1990 to 7.6 million in 2010 - despite a large increase in the population.Are vaccines produced keeping children from deve-loping countries like India in mind?
For the first time in history, children in developing countries are receiving new life-saving vaccines at nearly the same time these are given to those in high-income countries. This remarkable change was unthinkable just a few years ago and shows dramatic progress towards vaccine access and equity. Never before have we seen so many vaccine innovations over such a short period of timea¦India's emergence as a leader in vaccine manufacturing is a prime example of how this landscape has changed so dramatically.What about the role of government health programmes?
The Indian government's commitment to primary healthcare has meant increased health spending and the introduction of new vaccines. And universal immunisation programmes have made enormous strides in rea-ching many of the neediest and remotest populations, although barriers remain. The result of all this innovation and effort - with India playing a major role - is that immunisation rates are exceeding 80% in developing countries - a historic high.
But this still means almost one in every five children remains unvaccinated - more than 19 million in totala¦ironically, more than seven million of them are in India. While the country has one of the world's largest universal immunisation programmes, immunisation rates remain uneven across its 28 states. Country-wide, more than a quarter of children miss out on routine immunisation which is very important for their healtha¦every year, nearly 40% of all children's deaths in the world are attributable to pneumonia and diarrhoea. Vaccines exist that prevent the infections causing the most serious forms of these diseases. In India, pneumonia remains the leading killer of children - it accounted for more than 370,000 deaths in 2008. Simply ensuring that existing vaccines reach Indian children would make a major impact on child mortality in the country.Despite their successes, particular vaccine programmes still have critics with concerns. How do you respond to them?
Some isolated voices have questioned the value of vaccines and their role in protecting and improving health. But vaccine experts in India, like in other parts of the world, are rightly convinced that vaccines save lives and prevent unnecessary suffering. We have reached a profound moment in the history of immunisation with more and more powerful vaccines available. The world needs to recognise the massive impact that Indian technology is having in preventing disease and saving lives globally - and India should use that world-beating technology to give a shot at life to all its children.