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This is a blog by Dr. Seth Berkley, the CEO of the GAVI Alliance.
Visiting Australia this week (20-23 March), my top priority is to say thanks for the incredibly generous support to immunisation in general and the GAVI Alliance in particular. Contributing a total US$ 265.6 million for the period 2011 – 2015 alone, Australia is batting well above average.
It’s for an excellent cause. Set up just over a decade ago as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, GAVI has helped save an estimated 5.5 million lives in the developing world. Working with partners such as Results International (including our friends in RESULTS Australia), the Global Poverty Project, WHO and UNICEF, our support for the immunisation of 326 million children also prevents disease and disability.
To Australians, these extraordinary figures might read a bit like a Don Bradman scorecard, but the point is that we’re using immunisation to save large numbers of lives. And we could not have achieved such results without your support. Thank you, Australia. Thank you, Australians.
It’s an exciting time to be involved with immunisation.
Extraordinary effort in India, for example, means the Asian giant has not had any new polio cases for over a year -- not a bad accomplishment in a country where 26 million children are born every year, many of them nomadic or unregistered, and where two years ago were the largest number of polio cases in the world.
The result brings us even closer to eradicating polio, now endemic in just three countries (Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan) down from 125 in 1988. By comparison, these three countries have an annual birth cohort of 13 million and India’s success shows polio eradication is possible.
If we fail, by the way, we can expect to see many children paralysed every year within a decade forever. We simply have to beat polio and, with the right vaccines and your continuing support, we can.
Meanwhile, GAVI’s market-shaping work means developing countries now have access to new vaccines against pneumococcal disease and rotavirus, the two biggest vaccine-preventable killers of children under five years old.
These diseases together kill nearly one million children every year. It is an utterly sickening figure, but I’m incredibly proud that -- supported by donors such as Australia – GAVI’s work will bring these appalling mortality figures down in the coming years.
These two vaccines mean that GAVI now supports vaccines against a total 11 diseases.
The rubella vaccine is the latest vaccine to join our portfolio and we’re just about to offer it to developing countries for the very first time. Incidentally, it was an Australian scientist, Norman Gregg (not to be confused with Greg Norman, Australia’s golfing legend), who first spotted the links between rubella and congenital birth defects.
In the countries that GAVI works with, some 90,000 children are born every year with serious birth defects collectively known as congenital rubella syndrome, an easily preventable tragedy for mother and child alike. But, backed by countries like Australia, this number can come down.
We’re also looking to support countries with the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine against cervical cancer causing 275,00 deaths per year, another ground breaking vaccine developed by an Australian, Professor Ian Frazer. There is a wonderful video interview with him talking about his discovery and what it will mean for millions of women in developing countries here on the GAVI Alliance website (click here to see it).
The hepatitis A and B vaccines exist today thanks to another Australian Ian Gust’s distinguished research leadership.
As a medical doctor, epidemiologist, and chief executive of GAVI, I am very excited about the power and potential of immunisation.
Too many parents in this world don’t have easy access to large and efficient hospitals. They live too far away, they don’t have transport, the roads are bad, their sick child may reach the hospital too late, if at all.
Prevention of disease through vaccination really is key. And the parents know it well.
At the GAVI Alliance we believe that every child should have access to life saving vaccines, no matter where he or she is born. These cost-effective life-saving technologies are already saving the lives of more than 2.5 million children every year.
Any child dying from vaccine-preventable disease is an unnecessary death. Yet a child dies of a vaccine-preventable disease every 20 seconds.So we still have more work to do to reach the children who still do receive this opportunity.
But rest assured, Australia is playing its part with funds, expertise and support.
And it’s very good to be here to say THANK YOU.
About the author:
Dr Seth Berkley joined the GAVI Alliance as CEO in August 2011, as it launched its five-year strategy to immunise a quarter of a billion children in the developing world with life-saving vaccines by 2015.
Prior to joining the GAVI Alliance, Seth was the founder, president and CEO for 15 years of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), the first vaccine product development public-private sector partnership. Under his leadership, IAVI implemented a global advocacy programme that assured that vaccines received prominent attention in the media and in forums such as the G 8, EU and the UN.
He also oversaw the creation of a virtual vaccine product development effort involving industry, academia, and developing country scientists.
Prior to founding IAVI, Seth served as associate director in the Health Sciences Division at The Rockefeller Foundation. He has also worked for the Center for Infectious Diseases of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and for the Carter Center where he served as an epidemiologist at the Ministry of Health in Uganda.
He has consulted or worked in more than 25 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Seth sits on a number of international steering committees and corporate and not-for-profit boards, including those of Gilead Sciences, the New York Academy of Sciences and the Acumen Fund.
In the past, he has also served on the boards of public and private vaccine companies such as PowderJect and VaxInnate and health and development organisations such as OXFAM America.
He has been featured on the cover of Newsweek, recognised by TIME magazine as one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” and by Wired Magazine as among “The Wired 25 – a salute to dreamers, inventors, mavericks and leaders.”
Seth received his undergraduate and medical degrees from Brown University and trained in internal medicine at Harvard University.
This is an exclusive interview with the World Wide Web (WWW) Foundation by See Africa Differently. With their permission we have republished the interview below. You can read the original post here.
Over the last 15 years the rate and continued pace of innovations in web and mobile technology has been amazing across Africa. With creativity, social good and entrepreneurship at the core, we have seen the rapid uptake in mobile and internet change lives.
We have been fortunate enough to interview to Steve Bratt Chief Exec of the World Wide Web foundation on what he believes have been the major changes over the last 15 years and the exciting potential innovation and creativity will bring in the future.
The WWW foundation has a vision that all people should have the ability – and even the right – to use a free, open and increasingly-powerful Web to improve their world. Founded by World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, the Foundation is a non-profit organization that explores and scales innovative approaches that aim to make the Web accessible and valuable to everyone on the planet.
How would you describe the spread of mobile and internet technology across Africa over the last 15 years?
15 years ago, both mobile telephony and Internet usage were luxuries in Africa. Both communication technologies have spread across the continent, but the use of mobile phones is most dominant. Even in 2005, there were about 12 mobile subscriptions and 2 Internet users per 100 Africans. By 2010 the numbers were close to 50 mobile subscribers and 11 Internet users per 100.
And in that time what do you think has been the real turning point in Africa’s mobile and internet story?
I'm not sure this story has reached the real turning point yet. The power that the Web can provide to people to address challenges in their communities is so vast, yet so few in Africa have this power. What if every person with a mobile phone (in Africa or elsewhere) could browse the Web, create content and access services using just their voice. The Web Foundation and our partners are working on testing technology for "voice browsing". This would open the power that the Web provides to people with even the simplest phones, no data plans, low literacy and disabilities (such as vision impairment).
Social networks proved a pivotal platform in getting 1st hand accounts out of Africa in 2011. From elections in Nigeria to the Arab spring in North Africa. How do you think social networks will help Africa create its own narrative?
Services like Twitter, Facebook and Youtube played critical roles both in helping people to organize and in communicating the situations on the ground in real time. These were Africa narratives being played-out over technology built primarily in the North. I'm excited about the potential explosion of applications built by native African geniuses that address challenges including jobs, healthcare, education, nutrition, access to finance, security, etc.
Can you tell us about entrepreneurship labs in Accra, Nairobi and Senegal?
The Web Foundation, with funding from Vodafone, the European Commission and the World Bank/InfoDev, established these labs in 2011 and 2012 in order to give brilliant Africa developers and business people the tools to create enterprises valued Web applications that work on mobile devices. Such tools include training on technologies such as HTML, SMS, and user interface design. But more is needed to maximize the entrepreneur's probability of sustained success. Business training is critical, as is access to capital to get businesses started. We also provide a supportive community for entrepreneurs as well as businesses (such as telecommunications operators). Long-term mentoring to help address problems that arise on the technical and business side is also an important part of the labs. Out of our first graduating classes have come mobile applications that provide agricultural advice, tourism information, domestic abuse reporting, digital business card sharing, and tens of additional services. Which of these will be the next Facebook or eBay? We'll need to wait and see.
What 3 words sum up a modern, progressive Africa to you?
November 28, 2011 was historic in the DRC; the first ever democratic national election organized by the Congolese themselves. This relatively undeveloped voting system left the electoral process vulnerable to systemic and local corruption that could erode its very legitimacy. Two years ago I visited communities affected by violence in the eastern DRC, and in late November I returned to help monitor and evaluate the election. Like so many, I hoped that a fair democratic election would serve as a catalyst for change in this war-torn nation.
I was one of ninety international observers contributing to the European Network for Central Africa’s (EurAc) observer mission working in partnership with Congolese civil society organisations and Action for Transparent and Peaceful Elections (AETA) network across all eleven provinces. Our objective was to ensure a peaceful and reliable process which respected Congolese electoral law and human rights.
Over the weekend, we checked that preparation was underway at the polling centres (converted classrooms) checking whether the buildings were secure and if lists of voters had been posted. We took notes detailing whether ballot materials had been delivered to the centres and securely distributed to individual classrooms.
By Monday 28th November, election day, the atmosphere was electric. It was 5:30am, and already people were queuing for the anticipated 6.00am door opening. They had come from all over, some traveling great distances to participate in this momentous event. Their enthusiasm and genuine desire for a transparent and fair electoral process was not only inspirational, but contagious. When the doors opened, Congolese citizens literally ran into classrooms, eager to be among the first to cast their vote. This was far more than civic obligation, it was their opportunity to choose their leaders, and they exhibited genuine gratitude for the presence of international observers.
As evening fell, votes were counted in each classroom and candidate witnesses signed agreed ballot figures. They were then sealed and transported to the National Results Centre for verification. While I bore witness to several amateur practices – including loose ballot papers, sloppy admin, and human error in vote counting - both voters and local polling staff were determined to conduct themselves properly, and tried to do so.
However, reports soon broke out concerning violent incidents in the Katanga province and there was clearly intimidation in other areas (EurAc/Aeta Official Report). And soon the media was filled with controversial reports surrounding the inauguration of presidential incumbent Joseph Kabila. But the vast majority of Congolese did vote peacefully and this should not be discounted or overlooked.
As vote counting in the parliamentary elections continues to be suspended, with officials seeking assistance from foreign election experts, I worry for the Congolese citizens who were so desperately hoping to improve the reputation of their country, both in Africa and beyond.
Much of the international community has responded to the elections with condemnation and frustration. However, it is vital that criticisms of a few do not negate the sincere efforts and genuine hopes of the many. My personal experience is that most Congolese believe in a credible and honest democratic election, and went to great lengths to participate. A dismissal of their efforts risks undermining their faith in democratic values, the very values which the international community has worked hard to support. It is imperative that global criticisms of corruption of the Congolese few should be met equally with admiration of the Congolese many who have endeavored to participate openly and fairly. And international donors, like the UK and the EU, must insist on lessons learned so that future Congolese elections meet the aspirations of the Congolese people more consistently.
I’ve heard some great news from Rwanda this week. Rwanda may be on track to become one of the most compelling case studies in favour of foreign aid since South Korea emerged as an economic powerhouse late last century.
This week, the Government of Rwanda released a report that outlined startling success in reducing poverty over the past five years. According to the Household Living Conditions Survey — which is the international benchmark for assessing the prevalence of poverty — the number of households under the poverty line has dropped by 200,000 since 2006. That's about a million people in a country of 11 million — or, if you prefer statistics, a 12 percent drop in the population classified as 'poor' (from 57% to 45%) between 2006 and 2011. This represents one of the best outcomes in poverty in recent times. But beneath these impressive numbers, there are even more positive signs across the board in Rwanda.
In the same five years, the fertility rate has dropped from 6.1 to 4.6. That is a staggering number, largely owed to the rapid uptake of family planning among Rwandan women, growing from 10 percent in 2006 to 45 percent today (the target is 70 percent by 2013). Meanwhile, maternal and infant mortality rates have markedly declined as the government's health insurance scheme has grown to cover more than 90 percent of the population. On top of that, participation at all levels of education is on the up and up, with secondary enrollments doubling over the term of the survey.
Where the political will exists, these results are achievable for all developing nations. John Rwangombwa, Rwanda's Finance Minister, agrees. Writing in the Wall St. Journal this morning, Mr. Rwangombwa rejects the idea that Rwanda is experiencing a social and economic "miracle," as some gushing commentators like to claim:
"...there is nothing supernatural about what [Rwanda has] achieved to date.. [it is] the result of unrelenting focus by our country's leaders and citizens on getting the fundamentals right: government accountability and transparency, policies that attract trade and investment, a healthy and educated population."
Rwangombwa is also eager to share the credit with development partners, including the UK, EU, World Bank and African Development Bank:
"...it is only fair to note that the success so far of our economic development and poverty reduction strategy is owed to good policy both in Kigali and among our partners. We have been heartened, to say the least, by the courage displayed by our partners in their unwavering commitment to our country and continent during a period of great fiscal constraint."
Rwanda is undeniably leading the way in Africa towards the Millennium Development Goals, but it still has a long way to go in some areas. Over the next five years, infrastructure investment, electrification and access to water will all need serious attention — and some rural areas are lagging way behind. As the Minister points out, Rwanda's advances over the past five years "represents a mere fraction of the ambitions we hold for our country." Indeed, as long as 45 percent of the country's population remains in poverty, there is still much work to be done.
Today, the world marks exactly ten years since countries, civil society and the private sector all came together to launch The Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria – an innovative way of delivering aid that differed from other models.
Established in response to the terror and havoc caused by these once largely unchecked diseases, the unprecedented success of the Global Fund has transformed global health. Now, this unique public-private partnership stands as a clear demonstration of the scale of what is truly possible when we all work together.
As Kofi Annan – who as Secretary-General of the UN helped instigate the birth of the Global Fund – reflects:
'Many people said that the plan was unrealistic and the call for a war chest was a dream, but great achievements always start with a dream, and the progress we have made in the fight against the three diseases is proof that dreams can be realised.'
And the ‘proof’ is staggering. Since its inception in 2002, grants from the Global Fund have saved nearly 8 million lives. That’s an estimated 100,000 lives saved each month! Further, in the fight against AIDS alone, 6.6 million people in low and middle-income countries are on AIDS treatment, up from 200,000 a decade ago. Even more amazingly, access to AIDS treatment has increased over 3000% since the beginning of the Global Fund.
True, the Global Fund has not been without its challenges, as the occasional allegations of corruption illustrate. But there can be no denying that the Global Fund has – according to an independent high-level review – “made ordinary and expected what was unthinkable in dozens of nations ten years ago.”
Yet, as it celebrates its 10th birthday, the Global Fund’s live-saving work is at risk of grinding to a halt. As we reported back in November, the GF Board was recently forced to cancel its next round of grant-making and to announce that it would not be making any new grants for the next two years. This decision was made following the default by several donor countries on their payments to the Fund.
There can be no doubt that the Fund’s decision will adversely affect the progress that has been made over the last ten years. By cancelling its next round of grants, the Fund will effectively be forced to turn away new patients. This is a tragedy that must be prevented.
Key donors like the US, UK and Australia - crucial to the Fund’s success – should maintain, if not increase, their financial support now more than ever. Perhaps more importantly, they should also do everything they can to encourage new donors and ensure other existing donor countries keep their commitments.
Indeed, it would be a shame for all of humanity if, after coming so far, we let the progress made over the last decade be reversed. As Hilary Clinton said back in November: “To sit on the sidelines now would be devastating. It would cost lives, and we would miss out on this unprecedented opportunity. When so many people are suffering, and we have the means to help them, we have an obligation to do what we can.”