Great news! Two days ago the Global Alliance on Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) held a donation pledging conference of unprecedented success: several contributing countries promised a total of $4.3 billion for the vaccination of children in the developing world. Why this announcement is great news seems pretty straightforward, but the immensity of the total contribution, the scope of the need for vaccines and the sources of contribution are often astounding when considered more closely.
Excitingly, the contributions exceeded the $3.7bn goal by over half a billion dollars, which in sheer gross dollars is a breathtaking overshoot. GAVI estimates that the funding will save more than a million lives each year for the next four years, though this figure represents only a small percentage of the total preventable illness deaths in the developing world—for example, “Two million under-fives die from pneumonia alone each year,” and that’s just one of the three vaccine-preventable diseases that prove major causes of young children in low-income countries.
The primary impetus for this staggering funding pledge lies in this fundamental incongruity—pneumonia, diarrhea and measles together account for around 35% of child deaths in low-income countries, and that “three times as many children aged under five die from pneumonia and diarrhea than from malaria and HIV/Aids combined.” The ludicrousness of these numbers is made all the more unconscionable by the fact that most of these deaths are easily preventable with existing vaccines, but developing countries often cannot afford them.
Perhaps most interesting about this article is the rundown of sources for the funding—the UK is the largest giver, pledging $1.3bn, while at $1bn the second largest giver is Bill Gates. Norway and the United States come in third and fourth at $677m and $450m, respectively. The remainder of the funding comes variously from Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands. As a major speaker at the fundraising event, UK Prime Minister David Cameron defended his country’s increased commitment to the issue, touching on the “strong moral case” for the UK’s contribution at a time of domestic economic instability. It’s this moral obligation which seems to lie at the heart of the issue here—despite the existence of vaccines and their routine implementation in Europe and America, these diseases remain lethal in developing countries. These types of child death statistics would be absolutely intolerable to a developed country, so their reduction is a universal human rights imperative.
It is, however, somewhat telling that about half of the contributions come from Gates and the UK—should the world have to rely on private philanthropy and the goodwill of a few brave nations for the prevention of diseases that should really no longer be threatening large parts of the world population in 2011? Gates’ efforts are laudable no matter which way you look at it, but it’s hard to tell whether his choice to lead by example will actually be followed by the international community, which, by all reasonable estimations, should probably be paying attention to issues like this without being directed to them by private citizens.
You can personally donate to the GAVI’s cause here.