Ahead of the Gavi forum in Dar es Salaam, MSF questions whether enough is being done to reach all children with basic immunisation
This week, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (Gavi) is holding a forum in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Invited are 700 experts from all the organisations and countries Gavi works with, funding immunisation programmes across the globe and in some of the poorest places on the planet. Many health and finance ministers are among them.
To get a taste of their work with other press and delegates, I was part of a seven-jeep convoy to Morogoro on Tuesday, a three-hour drive on busy roads which seem to speak to growing prosperity, at least in the vicinity of the capital city. Villages in rural Morogoro, however, are more typical of the conditions of poverty that lead to disease and put children at risk of their lives. An immunisation clinic in Melela seemed almost overwhelmed by throngs of mothers who had brought their babies for routine immunisation and vitamin A drops. There is no doubt that the message that vaccines save lives has got through.
But even on the day before the Gavi Partners Forum officially opened, the debate began with a tough salvo from Médecins sans Frontières/Doctors without Borders (MSF). Immunisation is lauded in donor countries as the big success story of global heath – not least because it leads to a measurable difference, which donors love to be able to shout about. But, says MSF, is enough being done to reach the children most in need of help? This was Dr Manica Balasegaram, executive director of the MSF Access Campaign, who is here in Dar es Salaam:
There's no reason children should still be dying of vaccine-preventable diseases. The global vaccines community could be doing a lot better to make sure all babies in developing countries are fully vaccinated against killer diseases. We need vaccines that are easier to use in hard-to-reach places.
The organisation says it is deeply concerned that the current vaccination strategy is not paying enough attention to the one in five babies who go without the most basic immunisation, such as DTP (diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough) from two months and then measles vaccine, which babies should have at the age of nine months. MSF says vaccines also need to be better designed for the conditions of Africa.
The organisation's intervention comes just a day after the Gavi Alliance, Programme for Appropriate Technology in Health (Path), WHO and Unicef celebrated the 100 millionth person to be vaccinated with the new meningitis A vaccine, called MenAfriVac, made not by Big Pharma but by collaboration between the not-for-profit Path, the WHO and the Serum Institute of India. The vaccine has had great results, successfully protecting people across Africa's meningitis belt from the seasonal epidemics. This was in every sense a vaccine designed for Africa – targeting the precise strain of disease and costing only 50 cents a dose.
It will be interesting to see how the discussion goes this week.
guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds