There is a growing and welcome awareness that the world’s biggest health challenges have profound economic implications as well.
Illnesses such as pneumonia, measles and meningitis take an enormous personal toll on people in the world’s poorest countries. I have seen this first-hand in hospitals and rural clinics from Tanzania to Haiti.
There’s also a growing awareness that one of the surest ways to prevent this is through vaccines, which have proven to be one of the most cost-effective tools in global healthcare.
This is important information for the private sector. As global business leaders gather this week for the World Economic Forum in Davos-Klosters, global health is a key topic because companies recognize that their competitiveness and the health of communities among which they do business are mutually dependent.
Vaccines are one of the most cost-effective health investments around. The cost of vaccines used to fully protect a child against the most dangerous diseases is less than US$ 25 in countries covered by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI).
Delivering vaccines provides an enormous and proven value well beyond healthcare. Healthier children – a product of immunization – attend school more frequently and longer, and learn more while they are there. As adults, they will have longer, healthier and more productive lives than those who weren’t vaccinated as children.
My organization, the GAVI Alliance, was launched at the World Economic Forum in 2000 as a public-private partnership devoted to a mission of saving children’s lives and protecting people’s health by increasing access to immunization in poor countries. Ever since, GAVI has worked with a variety of partners, including many in the private sector, with strong support from governments. They all want to be a part of something transformative.
That is why many have joined the GAVI Matching Fund, where every dollar they contribute to GAVI is matched by either the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or the Government of the United Kingdom. These companies also are providing core business skills to help GAVI overcome roadblocks and provide visibility to the cause of immunization.
For instance, LDS Charities, the volunteer-driven relief and development arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, arranged 1.5 million text messages to be sent out during GAVI’s historic double roll-out of vaccines in Ghana in April 2012.
Or consider Vodafone, one of the world’s largest mobile communications companies, which is helping health ministries in GAVI-supported countries in sub-Saharan Africa use mobile technology solutions to improve their immunization programmes.
Comic Relief, the popular United Kingdom-based charity, has partnered with GAVI to significantly raise awareness about the need for vaccines in the developing world. Last April, it featured immunization as part of its annual appeal in the United Kingdom, which was viewed by millions and has helped raise US$ 24 million for GAVI.
Each of the three is making a major announcement at the World Economic Forum about the Matching Fund, bringing the total amount raised under the 18-month-old initiative to US$ 78 million, demonstrating how the private sector has become a key driver of the innovation required to tackle the world’s biggest health challenges.
How do we immunize an additional quarter billion children by 2015, to which GAVI has committed? With private sector partnerships, these accomplishments and many others are within our reach.
Author: Dagfinn Høybråten is the Chair of the GAVI Alliance Board. He is a Vice President of the Norwegian Parliament and a former Minister of Health, and the new Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers.
Image: I nurse prepares a vaccine at a hospital in Tegucigalpa REUTERS/Edgard Garrido