WHO Says With an Additional $1 Billion Annually, Immunization Could Save 10 Million More Lives in a Decade

NEW DELHI -- According to global immunization experts, 10 million additional lives could be saved through child and maternal immunization between 2006-2015 at an average annual cost of $1 billion, according to a new study by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF. The estimated $2.5 billion current annual spending on immunization in the poorest countries would need to increase to $3.5 billion by 2010 and $4 billion by 2015 to reach this goal.

The study, presented at the GAVI Partners' Meeting which took place in New Delhi Dec. 7-9, 2005, covers the potential impact that immunization can have over the next decade and outlines the financing requirements needed to make this a reality in developing countries.

"Immunization is one of the best values for public health investment today: adequate resources and the right strategies lead to concrete results. We have achieved much progress already through immunization, but much more can and should be done. WHO, through GAVI and with partners, such as UNICEF, is looking to achieve a massive impact in lives saved through immunization over the next decade," said Dr. Lee Jong-wook, director-general of WHO.

The new study follows on the WHO/UNICEF Global Immunization Vision and Strategy, adopted this spring. The document lays out a number of goals such as raising immunization coverage levels to 90 percent, and reducing vaccine-preventable illness and deaths by two-thirds by 2015. It provides strategies that countries and global immunization partners may use to reach such goals.

If countries achieve these goals, by 2015, more than 70 million children who live in the worlds poorest countries will receive each year life-saving vaccines against the following diseases: tuberculosis, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles, rubella, yellow fever, haemophilus influenzae type B, hepatitis B, polio, rotavirus, pneumococcus, meningococcus, and Japanese encephalitis. Immunization is essential to achieve the Millennium Development Goals of substantially reducing the child and maternal mortality rates.

The study examined the cost, financing and impact of immunization programs in the 72 poorest countries, which have a Gross National Income of less than $1,000 per year.(1) The estimated total price tag for immunization activities in 2006-2015 in these countries is $35 billion.

One-third of the $35 billion will be spent on vaccines. The total amount spent on vaccines will rise from about $350 million in 2005 to nearly $1.5 billion per year by 2015, as coverage is expanded with underused vaccines,(2) and new vaccines(3) are introduced. The remainder will be spent on immunization delivery systems including shared costs that strengthen the overall health system to improve immunization coverage in the 72 GAVI supported countries. The objective is to reach 90 percent coverage by 2015 from less than 70 percent today; $2.2 billion will go towards immunization campaigns, such as those for polio, measles and tetanus.

"Immunization is critical in reducing overall child deaths. This new study shows that we can achieve a significant reduction in deaths due to vaccine-preventable diseases with a modest increase in funds," said UNICEF executive director Ann M. Veneman. "Of the more than 10 million children under five who die every year, an estimated 2.5 million are dying from diseases that can be prevented with currently available or new vaccines."

Spending on vaccines in the 72 poorest countries supported by GAVI doubled from $2.50 per child in 2000 to more than $5.00 per child in 2005. "We have brought substantial new resources to immunization and this has had a catalytic effect on spending. But millions of children still lack access to immunization and the most basic health care. This enormous gap must be addressed," said Dr. Julian Lob-Levyt, executive secretary of the GAVI Alliance. "Unprecedented new resources from the International Financing Facility for Immunization will allow us to achieve much more. Of the $35 billion needed for the 72 poorest countries in the next decade, there is a $10-15 billion funding shortfall if we are to achieve the goal of saving 10 million more lives."

The poorest countries currently finance, on average, one-third of their immunization expenses. Immunization is a global public good and until these countries are able to take on a greater proportion of their immunization expenses, it is in the interest of resource-rich countries to cover some of the long-term costs. In an interconnected global community, there is an increasing vulnerability to the spread of disease, making immunization even more critical.

In addition to providing protection to children from vaccine-preventable diseases, immunization programmes also serve as a platform to strengthen health systems and to deliver other life-saving interventions such as those against malnutrition, malaria and intestinal worms.

Footnotes:

1. These 72 countries are eligible for immunization support from the GAVI Alliance

2. Hepatitis B, haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), rubella and yellow fever

3. Pneumococcus, rotavirus, meningitis A and Japanese encephalitis

Source: World Health Organization

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