Monday, February 1, 2010

A $10 Billion Push to Make Vaccines Even More Accessible

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced it would step up its efforts to bring life-saving vaccines to every corner of the world.

Late last year, the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations and World Bank issued a report finding that 106 million infants under the age of 1 were vaccinated in 2008, and also trumpeted the news that 120 new vaccines had been developed to battle diseases like measles and meningitis. But the report wasn't all rosy: It found that despite all the good vaccines were doing; 24 million infants – mostly in poor and remote areas in Africa and Asia - weren't getting vaccines during that crucial first year that babies in developed nations commonly receive.

It's unsurprising that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the organization responsible for much of the joyful news regarding successful vaccinations, is stepping up again to address these shortcomings. This week Bill Gates announced at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland that the charity would be pledging another $10 billion over the next 10 years to address caps in vaccination coverage, hopefully increasing that coverage to 90 percent. The money will also be put toward delivery of the vaccines, since many children who miss out on immunizations do so because they live in poorly served areas where access is difficult.

The Gates' charity helped establish the GAVI alliance, a public-private partnership that helps channel money to poor countries to purchase vaccines. The partnership also includes several drug-making companies like GlaxoSmithKline Plc, Novartis AG, Crucell NV, Merck & Co. Inc., Sanofi Pasteur and Wyeth. It also includes organizations like UNICEF, the WHO and World Bank. Before the partnership began, prior to 2000, immunizations were in a downward spiral. Now, the push for immunization is considered one of the factors (in addition to clean water and sanitation) responsible for the first documented drop in yearly deaths among children to under 10 million.

Gates noted that the new money would be critical in the push for new vaccines aimed at stopping pneumonia and rotavirus diarrhea, two deadly conditions for children in developing nations. Reuters noted that the plan could prevent up to 8 million child deaths over the next 10 years. Last year, the partnership pledged $1.5 billion toward a pneumococcal vaccine for developing nations. Pneumococcal diseases can cause meningitis and pneumonia, and kill about 800,000 children each year.

Though he announced the vaccines money in front of a horde of reporters covering the World Economic Forum, the news also coincides with Gates opening a Twitter account, where he's quickly amassed close to 400,000 followers, and has been sending out bits and pieces of “cool things,” like vaccine-related updates. One update directs followers to a video of the $10 billion announcement; another talks about his meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel prior to the announcement.

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