By Donald Zuhn --
Last month, Bill and Melinda Gates kicked off the new decade by announcing that their Foundation will be pledging $10 billion over the next ten years to help research, develop, and deliver vaccines to the world's poorest countries. The announcement came at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in January.
Noting that "[v]accines already save and improve millions of lives in developing countries," Mr. Gates (at right) declared that "[w]e must make this the decade of vaccines." He also noted that "[i]nnovation will make it possible to save more children than ever before." In addition, Mr. and Mrs. Gates urged governments and corporations to increase vaccine investment. To date, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has provided $4.5 billion for vaccine research, development, and delivery.
Using a model developed by a consortium led by the Institute of International Programs at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Foundation was able to project the potential impact of vaccines on childhood deaths over the next ten years. The model predicts that approximately 7.6 million children under 5 years of age can be saved this decade by developing new vaccines to prevent severe diarrhea and pneumonia (both of which are close to becoming available) and extending vaccine coverage in developing countries to 90%. The model also predicts that an additional 1.1 million children can be saved by introducing a malaria vaccine in the developing world by 2014 (one malaria vaccine candidate is currently in late-stage trials). In order to reach the Foundation's goal of 90% coverage, however, Mr. Gates stated that billions in additional funding will be required.
The Gateses noted that their $10 billion pledge was inspired by recent progress concerning vaccine research, development, and delivery in the developing world. For example, the couple pointed to World Health Organization (WHO) data showing that between 2000 and 2009, the percentage of children receiving the basic diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTP3) vaccine in the poorest countries of the world jumped from 66% to 79%, and that between 2000 and 2008, measles deaths in Africa dropped by 92%. In addition, a recent New England Journal of Medicine article shows that the introduction of a rotavirus vaccine in South Africa and Malawi reduced cases of severe diarrhea by more than 60%.
Appearing with Mr. and Mrs. Gates was Julian Lob-Levyt, the CEO of the GAVI Alliance, a global health partnership representing stakeholders in immunization from both private and public sectors that was launched at the World Economic Forum ten years ago. Mr. Gates noted that by coordinating the resources and expertise of vaccine companies, donors, UNICEF, WHO, the World Bank, and developing countries, the GAVI Alliance was "transforming the business of vaccines," and had permitted the vaccination of 257 million additional children, preventing some 5 million deaths. Looking at the organization's past accomplishments, Mr. Lob-Levyt observed that "[t]he potential to make bigger strides in the coming decade is even more exciting."