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Over 30 million children have been reached to date; New funds urgently needed to continue success

WASHINGTON, DC - 15 July 2003 -- Five-year commitments to immunize children in the world's poorest countries have topped $1 billion, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) and The Vaccine Fund announced today. Angola, Chad and Congo were approved for funding by GAVI's Board, bringing to 68 the total number of countries receiving support for health infrastructure, vaccines and supplies from The Vaccine Fund, GAVI's financing arm.

In his report to the GAVI Board meeting being held at the World Bank, Executive Secretary Dr. Tore Godal reported that well over 30 million children have benefited already from the nearly $250 million in new vaccines and funding for infrastructure disbursed so far from GAVI and The Vaccine Fund. Approximately 30 million more of the world's children are now protected against hepatitis B, 4.3 million children are now protected against Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) and 1.6 million children are now protected against yellow fever. Furthermore, GAVI estimates that countries have been able to provide basic vaccination to 8.3 million children who would otherwise have not been reached with any vaccines at all. It is estimated that as many as 300,000 deaths will be prevented because of the resources provided so far.

"In my 30 years in international public health, I have never before experienced such a rapid scale-up of a new program", said Dr. Godal. "The substantial financial commitment we received right off the bat, plus our entrepreneurial, risk-taking spirit allowed us to break new ground by inviting all of the poorest countries to apply for support - instead of taking a more traditional small-scale approach. Most importantly, we didn't start from scratch: GAVI partners rallied behind the political commitment in developing countries and supported them to successfully apply and implement their programs."

GAVI was created as a public-private partnership to reverse the decline in immunization coverage that many developing countries experienced during the 1990s. Partners include national governments, UNICEF, WHO, The World Bank, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, vaccine industry, public health institutions and nongovernmental organizations. Launched with an initial grant from the Gates Foundation, GAVI has been further financed by nine governments and additional private contributors, bringing its total commitments to $1.2 billion through 2004. With its annual funding to countries on the rise, The Vaccine Fund will need substantial new funding by the end of 2004 to continue supporting GAVI activities.

"As new vaccines become available and more children are born in developing countries, costs are soaring for The Vaccine Fund," said Jacques-Francois Martin, president of The Vaccine Fund. "Nine donor governments have responded to the fundraising challenge put forth by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, significantly contributing to GAVI's success; however, their contributions are only a down payment on the substantial mortgage needed to provide every child, everywhere with access to all life-saving vaccines. We urgently need to raise more money and bring new public and private donors to the table."

Many countries show impressive signs of success. According to preliminary reports of 2002 immunization rates, Mali and Uganda, for example, have successfully reversed their falling coverage rates of the late 1990s and are now reaching even more children than they had anticipated in their original applications to GAVI and The Vaccine Fund. Under the GAVI performance-based grants, these countries will receive larger checks from GAVI in 2004 than anticipated, if the early reports are confirmed.

GAVI and The Vaccine Fund provide support through grants to developing country health programs, attaching financing to measurable results and drastically limiting overhead costs. By encouraging countries to design their own grant applications, GAVI ensures ownership of the programs and strengthens local expertise. Grant applications are reviewed by an independent review committee and approved solely on their technical merits.

According to conservative estimates, global immunization efforts are saving three million lives per year. And yet, every year 33 million infants still miss out on immunization; at least 1.5 million of them will die of a vaccine-preventable cause before they reach their 5th birthday. Approximately 450,000 lives are lost from Hib-related pneumonia and meningitis each year and liver disease caused by hepatitis B will claim another 520,000 lives annually among those not vaccinated. Two out of every three un-immunized children can be found in five countries -- India, Nigeria, China, Pakistan and Indonesia.

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