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August 2000

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Health promises at the G8 summit: the challenge is to deliver

Table of countries approved for Fund support

A PROMISE to give priority to expanding children’s immunization was among the less-widely reported outcomes of the summit of the Group of Eight (G8) major industrialized nations in Okinawa, Japan, which ended on 23 July. But after a summit widely criticized in the world’s media for its lack of real progress, all eyes are now on those responsible for turning promises into action.

"We have the political backing and promises of some new money: now the real test is to make something happen on the ground," Andrew Cassels, senior policy analyst at the World Health Organization, told Immunization Focus. Cassels said that the WHO had been strongly "encouraged" by the G8 leaders’ recognition that better health is key to reducing poverty, but warned that there is "a huge agenda of work to be done over the next few months".

The seven rich nations plus Russia committed themselves to fight infectious diseases, especially AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and childhood diseases. In their final communiqué, they set targets to halve TB deaths and the burden of malaria disease, and to cut by a quarter the number of HIV- infected young people, by 2010. The communiqué does not specify any mechanisms for achieving these targets, although a further meeting in the autumn will review priorities, discuss new ways of working and set a timetable for action.


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New money has been promised from two of the rich nations: Japan will allocate US$3 billion in assistance to low-income countries for infectious and parasitic disease control over the next five years; and the United Kingdom is to double to US $160 million over the next three years, its development assistance for improving access to drugs and technologies for major communicable diseases.

The European Commission, whose president also attended the G8 summit, is also understood to have promised significant new funding although no statement or specified sum had been announced as Immunization Focus went to press.

The leaders in Okinawa also heard confirmation that the International Development Association, the World Bank’s concessionary lending arm, would treble its provision of credit to combat AIDS, malaria, TB and childhood diseases, including immunization, to at least US$1 billion.

IDA provides about US $7 billion per year overall for long-term credits to low-income countries. Eligible governments will be able to apply for IDA financing for a range of purposes, such as strengthening their infrastructures for delivering health interventions, or supporting disease prevention and control activities, says Amie Batson of the World Bank. The Bank’s aim is to strengthen the capacity of governments to provide sustainable services, by complementing the actions of other GAVI partners and the Vaccine Fund. "The Vaccine Fund can help to catalyze and complement more sustainable sources of funding," she says.

One of the lucky ones: a Ghanaian child with suspected malaria sees the doctor. Most children with malaria have limited access to medical care.

Besides setting targets on the three major killer diseases, the G8 communiqué also sets out a broader agenda which will need to be addressed if these targets are to be achieved.

This includes "the development of equitable and effective health systems, expanded immunization, nutrition and micronutrients and the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases". And it commits the G8 nations and their partners to work "to make existing cost- effective interventions, including key drugs, vaccines and preventive measures more universally available and affordable in developing countries".


1. G8 Okinawa Summit


Phyllida Brown



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