Child Mortality and Immunization in Developing Countries
30 March 2005 - 2005 is a crucial year in our global struggle against poverty, hunger and fatal childhood disease in the developing world. Only 10 years remain before 2015, when the world will assess and take stock of its progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) established by the UN in 2000.
Global leaders and development experts are beginning to realize that concerted action and additional resources will be needed if we are to stand a chance of achieving the MDGs and begin to reduce extreme poverty. Within the broader debate on what needs to and can be achieved, child survival has emerged as an area where a substantial amount of further progress can be achieved over the next 10 years.
Specifically, Millennium Development Goal 4 aims to reduce by two-thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the mortality rate among children under five. This goal stands as a daunting challenge, as currently 27 million children each year have no access to basic immunization, and, of the 10 million children under five who died last year, over 2.5 million died from vaccine preventable diseases. It is also a major opportunity. Within the broader effort to strengthen health systems, immunization remains one of the most cost-effective public health tools ever invented. Through vaccination we have achieved one of the greatest successes of medical science: the eradication of smallpox, and we are not far from eradicating polio. Other diseases, such as diphtheria, tetanus and measles can now be controlled. Under-five mortality among children could be drastically reduced if high global vaccination coverage rates were achieved for the vaccines already available.
The impact of vaccines on public health during the 20th century has been tremendous. Without a doubt, vaccination has been one of the most effective tools in preventing death, disability and disease, as well as in controlling health costs. One of the most important challenges of the 21st century is to develop safe and effective vaccines against the 3 major diseases the world currently faces: HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.
These 3 diseases account for 30 to 50% of healthy years lost in developing countries; they are the paradigm of poverty-related diseases, and have become the main targets of the Vaccine Initiative for the Millennium proposal. We need to further mobilize the pharmaceutical industry, the scientific and academic world, public health and child care specialists, and others who are already working to improve immunization technology and achieve the breakthroughs that can save and improve the lives of millions of children.
While we work on the scientific and technological advances that will lead to the development of new vaccines and improvements in today’s immunization tools, it is essential to strengthen our efforts in delivering existing vaccines to the populations that need them. To achieve this, additional and sustainable resources are needed to finance childhood immunization. It is necessary to purchase vaccines and distribute them, ensuring the right types of vaccines reach the right places in order to reach the children who need them.
Basic immunization is a basic right of children. We cannot continue to look the other way when we hear that every year 2.5 million children die or are disabled as a result of infections that no longer affect our own children because they have been vaccinated. Barcelona was host to the first Universal Forum of Cultures, whose motto was "a forum for diversity, sustainability and peace". Let us mobilize politicians, public administrations and civil society so that, accepting the diversity of the different peoples of the world, we can provide them with the basic economic security that is the first condition for peace: ensuring that children are the first beneficiaries of international solidarity. The key priority must be that children in developing countries benefit from the vaccines that have for years been dramatically reducing mortality and morbidity among children in other countries. What is good for our children is good for all children.
We therefore wholeheartedly support immunization programs that contribute to the international commitment to children's health as a human right. At The Vaccine Fund's 2004 launch of the Campaign for Childhood Immunization, WHO, UNICEF and other critical partners in the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization reaffirmed their commitment to this goal.
We firmly believe that without safe and healthy children there can be no economic development. That is why the crucial role of international cooperation on health - especially with regard to infectious diseases – must be taken into account in defining foreign policy.
As a corollary, we urgently call on politicians, the private sector, academics and scientists to invest resources in childhood immunization in developing countries. We call on them to invest in existing vaccines, and in future vaccines to stimulate research by the pharmaceutical industry into products their clients do not have the resources to buy. Rich countries must pledge to buy the vaccines needed by poor countries and help them strengthen their health systems, ensuring vaccines reach those who need them most. Humanity has reached a crucial moment in history, and we must increase knowledge and mobilize resources for international initiatives aiming to improve health and promote global development.
Scientific Symposium - “Child Survival and Immunization in the Developing Countries” - Barcelona, Spain