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GENEVA -- Children in the world's poorest countries could benefit from new life-saving vaccines years sooner, thanks to two $30 million grants announced today by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) and its financing arm, The Vaccine Fund. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) have each been selected to receive grants to ensure that vaccines against pneumococcus and rotavirus are made available developing countries quickly once they are licensed. It is estimated that every year half a million children die as a result of rotavirus-related diarrhea, and one million from pneumococcus-related pneumonia.
This announcement marks the first time that GAVI and The Vaccine Fund will fund projects to ensure access to future vaccines. Since its launch in 2000, the GAVI alliance has focused primarily on ensuring that today's vaccines are made available to all children today. With Vaccine Fund support, many countries are improving their basic vaccine coverage rates and ten million additional children have been newly vaccinated against hepatitis B -- a vaccine that was first licensed 20 years ago.
Both grants awarded today will be used to bring together experts in research, regulation, marketing and manufacturing to address potential obstacles such as lack of disease burden data and vaccine efficacy, uncertain market demand, and regulatory processes that could delay approval of vaccines for the developing world. The projects set out the key steps, timelines, players and budgets needed to deliver a specific number of doses of vaccine by a specific date.
The GAVI Board has focused on rotavirus and pneumoccocus because both illnesses cause a high disease burden in developing countries, and new vaccines for both are in advanced stages of development. A rotavirus vaccine could be licensed by 2005; a pneumococcus vaccine suitable for strains prevalent in developing countries could be licensed by 2007.
According to Dr Richard Klausner, executive director of Global Health for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a member of the GAVI Board, "Only a concerted and collaborative effort by the global health community, government, and private industry will ensure that the vaccines will be available where they are most needed. These projects represent a new approach to vaccine development that combines good public health policy with good private industry practices."
"The announcement of these projects is excellent news for the world's children," said Dr Tore Godal, executive secretary of GAVI. "If we are to reach the infant mortality Millenium Development Goals, we will need to do much better about bringing life-saving vaccines to the developing world much faster. And the work we do now with rotavirus and pneumococcal vaccines will help pave the way for the AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis vaccines that are so desperately needed."
"By committing $60 million to accelerate development of new lifesaving vaccines, The Vaccine Fund and GAVI are demonstrating to the world that immunization is one of the best investments for the world's future -- its children. It's a right deserved by every child, everywhere and remains the best bargain in public health," said Jacques-Francois Martin, president of The Vaccine Fund.
Rotavirus infects virtually every child in the world under 5 years of age. While it doesn't cause disease in all those infected, the extent of disease it causes often depends on where a child lives; 85 percent of deaths occur in developing countries. In countries such as India and Bangladesh, 1 in every 250 children dies from rotavirus disease. Currently at least four rotavirus candidate vaccines are at or near the clinical trials stage; China is already producing a rotavirus vaccine for domestic use.
Pneumococcal infections, especially meningitis and pneumonia, are estimated to cause as many as 1 million childhood deaths -- as many as malaria. Immunization is urgently needed because up to 90 percent of pneumococcal strains in many countries are resistant to first-line antibiotics. Vaccines tailored to prevent the strains that are most prevalent in developing countries are in advanced stages of large-scale testing in Africa and Asia.
The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) is a public- private partnership focused on increasing access to vaccines among children in poor countries. Partners include national governments, UNICEF, WHO, The World Bank, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the vaccine industry, public health institutions and NGOs. For more information, visit http://www.vaccinealliance.org/ .
The Vaccine Fund raises financial capital and additional resources for countries and was launched in 2000 as GAVI's financing arm. For more information, visit http://www.vaccinefund.org/.
Source: The Vaccine Fund