Vaccines funding boost will save millions of children in poorest countries

International donors have pledged to give $7.5 billion to help fund vaccines that will stop the premature deaths of up to six million children in some of the world’s poorest countries.

The extra money, which will let countries immunise an extra 300 million children from diseases and illnesses such as pneumonia and measles, was promised at the annual pledging conference of Gavi (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation) in Berlin.

GaviI says 500 million children have been reached with lifesaving vaccines in the 15 years since the public-private partnership was launched to improve childhood immunisation coverage in poor countries. It estimates seven million lives have been saved as a result.

The extra funding announced on January 27 will also mean millions of immunised children will remain healthy and be able to stay in school and complete their education.

Among the new donations were a pledge from the United Kingdom of $1.57 billion for 2016 to 2020, while the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation promised $1.55 billion. Norway is offering $969 million, the United States $800 million and Germany $720 million. China, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia made pledges to Gavi for the first time.

Gavi was set up with the help of a $750 million five-year pledge from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Bill Gates was at the Berlin conference, where he said: “Today is a great day for children in the world’s poorest countries who will now receive the life-saving vaccines they need.”

In her speech, Norway’s prime minister Erna Solberg said: “Health and education are key factors for children to reach their full potential. Educated mothers are more likely to have their children vaccinated. Healthy children are more likely to perform at school. Economic growth is built on health and education. Human resources is the backbone of wealthy societies.”

In their 2015 Annual Letter, Bill and Melinda Gates predicted child deaths will be halved by 2030 because of vaccines, sanitation and other improvements. In their section on education, they also wrote: “Education is a great leveller. But if the factors that hold girls back are not addressed, and if access to education isn’t equal, then education will become another cause of inequity, rather than a cure for it.

“This is especially important because when a young woman gets an education, it has a powerful ripple effect. As an adult, she’ll earn more money. If she has children, they will be twice as likely to live past the age of five. Her daughters will be twice as likely to go to school themselves.

“There’s no way to get around the fact that more girls need to be in good schools, and for longer. But online education will open up new opportunities for girls with the means and motivation to take advantage of it.

“As the cost goes down and incomes go up, more people will have the means, and we’ll be well on our way to providing high-quality education for everyone.”

Read a blog by A World at School’s Ben Hewitt on how the vaccines pledging can show the way for the global education movement.