Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, commented on MDG goals and African nations in an address to the Regional Committee for Africa, Sixtieth Session, Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, on 30 August 2010. Below is a portion of her remarks that related to vaccines and immunization:
“…African nations can reach the health-related Millennium Development Goals
health initiatives, like the Global Fund, like the GAVI Alliance, have done great good over the past decade and are widely praised as models of success. In Africa, for example, 76% of external financial support for malaria control has come from the Global Fund.
These initiatives introduced the principle of results-based funding. And yet despite their own excellent, measurable results, they are now strapped for cash.
Other initiatives speeded the development of new vaccines to prevent pneumonia and diarrhoeal disease, the two biggest killers of young children in the developing world. Yet the implementation of these life-saving vaccines into routine immunization programmes is now in jeopardy because of funding shortfalls.
Tremendous progress towards the elimination of measles, especially here in Africa, is also now in jeopardy because of funding shortfalls. A highly contagious disease like measles can resurge very quickly. Some 28 countries in Africa have suffered measles outbreaks this year. As I said, progress is fragile.
Antiretroviral therapy for AIDS is a life-line, for a lifetime. Can we cut this life-line off because funds are running short, or because donors decide that investment in other priorities will yield a bigger payback? Do we have this moral option?
What will it mean if a financial crisis, seeded by greed, cancels out fragile health gains made possible by so much good will and innovation? Does the worst in human nature win over the best? These are big-picture issues, and they need to be raised.
Progress towards polio eradication is also fragile. Last year, this region faced widespread polio epidemics across 20 countries of West Africa, Central Africa, and the Horn of Africa. The situation was so alarming that some people began to talk about abandoning the goal of polio eradication.
The situation looks much better today. With your collaboration, we now have an aggressive new strategic plan to complete polio eradication. Among other things, it address head-on the problem of international spread that has made progress so fragile. It also introduces accountability at the sub-national level.
Today, Nigeria has reduced the incidence of polio by a striking 99%. The Horn of Africa is again polio-free. No virus has been detected in West Africa since the start of May, though it is too early to say the outbreak has been stopped.
We are deeply concerned about the outbreak in Angola, which is the only expanding polio outbreak in the world this year. Polio also persists in neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the virus circulated undetected in one area for nearly two years.
This situation must be reversed. Every child must be reached, during campaigns and through strong routine immunization. A resurgence of polio, of deaths, and childhood paralysis is the predictable consequence if we fail to stay the course.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We need to raise some big-picture issues, but we also need to preserve our optimism and keep building the momentum.
I asked earlier: what does it mean that progress towards the MDGs is so uneven in Africa? One thing is clear. It means you cannot generalize about conditions in Africa.
Old perceptions, that Africa is uniformly poor and needy, universally sick and hungry, or badly governed across the board, no longer pertain to modern Africa. Countries at similar levels of socioeconomic development have strikingly different health outcomes, and this already tells us something.
Governance is improving and democracy is gaining ground. A middle class is emerging. Fertility is going down. Your populations are comparatively young, and this is an asset. As the economists argue, Africa is poised to cash in on a “demographic dividend” that can perpetuate a cycle of growth.
Let me state my view very clearly. The health-related MDGs are within the reach of African nations…
…In early December, a new conjugate meningitis vaccine, tailor-made and priced for Africa, will be launched in Burkina Faso in a mass campaign. This vaccine has the power to transform the terrifying, recurring epidemics uniquely seen in the African meningitis belt.
You asked for this vaccine. You wanted it and you stated the price you could afford. As Niger’s minister of health argued at the time, “A vaccine that Africa cannot afford is worse than no vaccine at all.”
A unique WHO-PATH partnership, the Meningitis Vaccine Project, developed the new conjugate vaccine. It is manufactured in India, using technology transferred from the USA. The price per dose is less than 50 cents.
African scientists designed the study protocols and conducted the clinical trials. Canada assisted with regulatory approval. WHO pre-qualified the vaccine in June. The first 1.35 million doses arrived in Burkina Faso on 12 August.
Africa has a first-rate vaccine for an African disease. You also have a powerful model of partnership for the development of new products…”
Full text of remarks at: http://www.who.int/dg/speeches/2010/AFRO_Regcom_20100830/en/index.html