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Gregory Hartl World Health Organization Phone: 001.41.22.791.4458
Susan Durgan APCO Associates Phone: 206.652.1814 or 206.239.0155
SEATTLE -- The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced today a gift of $750 million over five years to help ensure that children in developing countries are immunized against major killer diseases in the new millennium. The gift represents the first contribution to a new initiative called the Global Fund for Children's Vaccines. Once it is operational, the fund will purchase vaccines and improve immunization services in the poorest countries in the world. The Global Fund for Children's Vaccines will become operational in the next six to eight months.
The fund will work closely with a new international coalition called the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), a partnership of international development and finance organizations, philanthropic groups, the pharmaceutical industry and others.
The GAVI partners, which include the World Health Organization, UNICEF, The World Bank, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Children's Vaccine Program will use the money for a sustained global vaccination effort to address the challenges facing vaccine development and delivery in developing countries. An estimated 4 million children die each year of illnesses that can be prevented if children were vaccinated in time.
In addition to buying vaccines, the Fund will work on an international level to encourage governments, private enterprise, pharmaceutical companies and other individuals to provide the financial resources needed to make global childhood immunization a reality. Fund resources will also be used to strengthen existing immunization programs where needed.
"Melinda and I are committed to ensuring that every child has access to lifesaving vaccines in the next millennium, regardless of where they live," said Bill Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
"There are existing vaccines which if distributed properly could save 3 to 4 million children's lives a year. But on the issue of AIDS, of malaria and of other diseases for which we do not yet have effective vaccines, the current drama is how to move ahead and get the research done. The Bill and Melinda Gates initiative is a tremendous boost to this process and we should all celebrate it," said James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank Group.
Officials in the GAVI partner agencies estimate major financial commitments will be needed over the next five years to immunize children in the poorest countries against the major causes of liver cancer, pneumonia, and meningitis. By introducing the new vaccines against these diseases, and by improving the use of traditional vaccines, the Global Fund for Children's Vaccines' goal is to double the number of children saved each year.
Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of WHO and current Chairman of the GAVI Board said "GAVI has come into being because we want to embrace a broader partnership. It will be a major boost to addressing the disproportionately large burden of disease suffered by the poor. Special thanks go to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for their generous and enlightened commitment."
At present, many parents and governments in the poorest countries cannot afford to pay for newer, relatively expensive vaccines. Once it is evident that country resources for immunization have been maximized, the Fund will step in to provide resources needed to ensure new vaccine introduction in stronger immunization programs.
"Effective distribution of vaccines to the poorest parts of the world is dependent upon partnerships between business, governments, foundations and individuals," said Carol Bellamy, executive director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). "Today's commitment by Bill and Melinda Gates is a major step forward in ensuring that all children will have equal access to life-saving vaccines. I hope others will follow their leadership and help to make worldwide vaccine distribution a reality."
Foundation officials will provide additional details on the Fund early next year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
One of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's main goals is to improve access to life-saving vaccines to all children. Foundation officials have been working closely for more than a year with the key international agencies to identify ways to overcome obstacles to effective vaccine delivery in the developing world.
With a gift of $100 million, the Foundation established last year the Bill and Melinda Gates Children's Vaccine Program to decrease the amount of time it takes – sometimes as long as 10 to 15 years – for vaccines to become available to children in the developing world. The Children's Vaccine Program is working to eliminate the time lag between initial licensing and global use of new vaccines in developing countries. The Program is currently focusing on vaccines that protect children against respiratory, diarrheal, and liver diseases (Hib, pneumococcus, and hepatitis B).
Established in 1999, GAVI seeks to re-energize immunization around the world and to fulfill the right of every child to be protected against vaccine-preventable diseases. To achieve this mission, GAVI seeks to: accelerate introduction of new vaccines; expand the use of all existing cost-effective vaccines; and, accelerate research and development efforts for vaccines and related products relevant to developing countries such as vaccines against HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. GAVI's Board of Directors consists of top officials from its member organizations and is currently chaired by Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, secretary general of the World Health Organization, who will be followed in two years by Ms. Carol Bellamy, executive director of UNICEF. For more about GAVI visit the wbsite.