Australia’s role on the global vaccine stage

Last Thursday evening The University of Melbourne’s Spot Theatre hosted a unique and impressive event.

Australia’s Role In The World is an initiative of UN Youth Australia, the Australian Institute of International Affairs and the University of Melbourne. It’s purpose is to “engage young people, academia and the wider public in debate
about major global issues”. The official launch of the initiative was a forum entitled Vaccines To Change The World and made for a perfect Live @ Melbourne event.

The panelists were Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of the GAVI Alliance (formerly the Global Alliance for Vaccination and Immunisation), Tim Costello, CEO of World Vision Australia, Sir Gustav Nossal, University of Melbourne and Dr Kate Taylor from the Nossal Institute for Global Health. ABC Correspondent, Ben Knight having just returned from the Middle East made for an appropriate and excellent moderator.

When it comes to funding vaccination in developing nations and contributing to vaccine research and development, “Australia punches way above it’s weight”, Seth Berkley informed a large audience shortly into his address. Given the global challenge, and the positive impact of these programmes, this is something to feel good about.

Presently one child dies every 20 seconds from VPD. 270,000 women die annually from HPV related cancer with 85% in developing nations. More so, the percentage of mortality to cervical cancer incidence is disproportionally high in low to middle income nations. HPV vaccine coverage is least in these nations – something GAVI is working to address.

Lower income nations experience higher incidence and mortality from HPV related cancer

With pneumonia and diarrhea the top killers it’s satisfying to know Aussies contribute significantly to the “huge task” of rolling out of Pnuemococcal and Rotavirus vaccines. Along with Hepatitis B, DTP3 and Hib, GAVI has slashed the cost of access. In the case of the Pneumococcal vaccine market GAVI fund 97% of cost as compared to the USA market.

Pneumococcal and Rotavirus vaccines directly target two major child killers

However with 19 million children still missing out on immunisation and 15.4 million of those in GAVI eligible nations, one can appreciate the significance of GAVI’s mission and goals. Along with the mission to save lives and improve health via access to immunisation, GAVI seek to accelerate the uptake and use of underused and new vaccines. Helping strengthen the capacity of integrated health systems will be crucial in achieving this.

One child dies every 20 seconds from a VPD. Of 19 million missing out, 15.4 million are GAVI eligible

Increasing the predictability of global financing and improving the sustainability of national financing for immunisation, along with shaping the vaccine market are GAVI’s final two goals. GAVI also aim to drive equity in vaccine access across the globe. An impressive example of this is the uptake of the Hepatitis B vaccine in the decade from 2000.

High income nations increased uptake from 60% to around 77%. Low income nations shot from just over 5% to 98%. The impact of the consequential lowering of liver cancer incidence, particularly in China which experienced epidemic levels, cannot be understated.

“Only good for junkies and hookers” – anti-vaccination slurs of the HBV vaccine reflect pop culture mentality

This brings into focus how important immunisation is not only in preventing disease but in sustaining economies, and earning potential in adults. Immunised children maintain the health to attend and complete school. Reaching adulthood they have the potential to earn a competitive wage and thus contribute significantly to family income.

Parents need not produce large families to combat childhood sickness and death, or to meet the need for labour and their own care in old age. The cost of a disabled child or adult added to the tragedy of a deceased parent is a reality for many in developing nations. It’s estimated a one year increase in life expectancy equates to increased labour productivity of 4%. In this light it’s been estimated immunisation programmes have a rate of return between 12.4 – 18%.

One study cited by Seth Berkley noted that a fully immunised 11 year old would present with increased IQ, language skills and math testing results. Over time the “democratic dividend” is to invest more in fewer children. Thus we can see that by ensuring healthier children and smaller populations immunisation can pull families, villages, districts and  entire nations from poverty. According to Dr. Kate Taylor 100 million people per year are driven back into poverty due to illness.

Hib meningitis in Kenya’s Kilifi region fell 88% in three years following vaccine introduction

Results from immunisation are undeniable. With a 54% increase in population from 1980 – 2010 came a 95% reduction in diptheria and tetanus cases, a 92% reduction in measles and pertussis and a 97% reduction in polio. $1.3 billion per year is saved due to the absence of smallpox, which is over ten times the cost of the 1979 eradication programme.

When the Global Polio Eradication Programme was launched in 1988, 125 countries were endemic and 350,000 children were paralysed annually. Today only three countries remain endemic. India is an example of strong political will and determination in that two years ago it had the largest number of cases, yet today has been free of polio for a full year.

Rolling out new vaccines to close the immunisation gap is a major GAVI priority

Future challenges for GAVI will be expanding it’s reach and overcoming political apathy to make the most of emerging new vaccines and to roll out those yet to hit the market. The newer the vaccine the higher the percentage of those unimmunised. Poor political will is an obstacle. Part of the answer is to get the public and the global community to care, without placing excessive reliance on ministries of health by also including financial and planning ministries.

Australia is presently the sixth largest supporter of GAVI. Recently, thanks to Kevin Rudd, our commitment rose from $6 million to $250 million in the lead up to 2015. Kate Taylor underscored that private individuals with enormous wealth had dramatically also changed the landscape in securing funding dollars.

As competition drives down vaccine prices quality control in emerging markets is vital

Focusing on two research initiatives Sir Gus Nossal declared, “The future is bright”. Australia is contributing strongly to the “second generation” malaria vaccine, which given that the RTS,S is 56% effective in toddlers, is an essential avenue of pursuit.

Closer to home he mentioned emerging research into a vaccine for Group A Streptococcus. This disease has given Australia the unenviable status of having the highest incidence of rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease in remote indigenous communities.

Tim Costello reinforced that Australia and AusAID is committed to 0.5% of Gross National Income. Presently Australia has no billionaire analogues to the Bill Gates’ of this world. Letting no-one off the hook, Tim pointed out that, per capita, W.A. also donate the least to charity despite their expanding wealth. Aussies donate 35 cents per $100 of tax payer monies to global charity.

Over 90 or so minutes a fascinating account of Australia’s role in the World was presented by some rather heavy hitters in global charity and health.

Aussies can be proud that an unmistakable message is that when it comes to global vaccine equity, our nation is an accomplished heavy hitter also.

How can anyone doubt? Vaccination Saves Lives.

All slides © GAVI

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I'm not really a cast iron flying pig.

One Response to Australia’s role on the global vaccine stage

  1. Pingback: GAVI Alliance: the success continues « Losing In The Lucky Country

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