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Monday, 10 June 2002

Prime Minister Vajpayee Launches New Initiative To Vaccinate Children Against Hepatitis B

NEW DELHI/NEW YORK/GENEVA, 10 June 2002. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today launched a new initiative that will bring hepatitis B vaccine to children in slum areas in 15 cities and 32 rural districts. The pilot project will initially provide hepatitis B vaccination to about two million eligible infants. The project is to be expanded in a phased manner during the Tenth Five-Year Plan, so that hepatitis B vaccination can be integrated into the routine immunisation services and strengthen them.

India will receive assistance to the tune of 4.1 million (US) dollars over the next two years from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) and the Vaccine Fund, based on an application from the Indian government and partners. The funds have been awarded to support the introduction of the hepatitis B vaccine into India’s immunisation program, which does not currently include the vaccine.

Another key part of the new initiative is the introduction of auto-disable (AD) syringes which have an in-built mechanism to prevent their re-use and thus prevent the spread of diseases such as hepatitis B and HIV. WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA and the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have adopted a global policy on injection safety, urging the use of auto-disable syringes for all immunisation by the end of 2003.

“The goal of GAVI and the Vaccine Fund is to close the gap between the developed and developing world in access to vaccines,” said Carol Bellamy, Chair of the GAVI Board and UNICEF Executive Director. “It is about reaching every child, everywhere with the vaccines they need.”

While the GAVI and Vaccine Fund support is limited to select areas in India, it is intended as an initial step towards introducing the hepatitis B vaccine into the routine immunisation programme.

“We hope that these funds are a catalyst to expand access to hepatitis B vaccine for all children in India,” said Jacques François Martin, the President of the Vaccine Fund. The Fund was created to ensure that all of the world’s people, no matter how rich or how poor, have equal access to life-saving vaccines.

Hepatitis B is a significant public health concern in India. It is estimated that 60% of liver diseases are due to hepatitis B infection and 80% of liver cancer cases in India are due to hepatitis B. The challenge of hepatitis B, like AIDS, is that it is “hidden” and its debilitating impact takes a long time to emerge. The difference is that there is an effective vaccine for hepatitis B.

“Hepatitis B and other vaccine preventable diseases take a terrible emotional and economic toll on families, villages and countries,” said William H. Gates Sr, Co-chair, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Through GAVI, we have the tools needed to get vaccines to those most in need. But, this is not possible without the commitment of governments and health care providers. We applaud the Indian government for their leadership role in making health a top priority.”

The Vaccine Fund was established to address the need for new and underused vaccines in the world’s poorest countries – those with per capita GNP below $1,000. The Fund provides resources for immunisation services as well as for purchasing new and under-used vaccines against diseases such as hepatitis B, yellow fever and haemophilus influenza B (hib). The Vaccine Fund mobilises resources to serve the mission of GAVI.

The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) is a coalition of organisations whose mission is to reduce the widening disparities in vaccine access between industrialised and developing countries, and increase global immunisation coverage. The GAVI partners include: national governments, the Children's Vaccine Program at PATH, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations (IFPMA), research and public health institutions, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, UNICEF, the World Bank Group and the World Health Organization (WHO).

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