Hope is one of the most powerful and underestimated forces in the world. Among all of our triumphs during the past century, few achievements have generated more hope than the creation of new vaccines that offer people the possibility of escaping a devastating disease. It’s an experience shared across generations, religions and national boundaries – one of the few things that nearly every human has in common.
The scale of our collective progress can be measured against a timeline of vaccine milestones. The polio vaccine brought hope to millions of families from America to Zambia. Up until the mid-Twentieth Century, few could imagine the eradication of smallpox, but a global vaccination campaign against the disease starting in the 1960s ushered in an era of new possibilities for billions. And the roll-out over the past week of the first-ever approved malaria vaccine may mark another landmark: the moment when children across Africa have been given hope in the form of a tool that can help them escape a plague that kills 500,000 of them each year.
A future where malaria is eliminated as a public health threat in the African continent may remain out of reach for the immediate future, but that shouldn’t stop us from working to fulfil our dreams of a malaria-free Africa. As it has with other diseases, the introduction of a new vaccine has the potential to catalyze innovation and create new opportunities for economic growth.
If the malaria vaccines enter the immunization schedule of most African countries over the next year, as planned, the steady stride of the region’s economic power may accelerate. When more children survive past their 5th birthday and the strain on health systems is reduced, that’s not only intrinsically valuable, it’s a good thing for economic growth.
Healthy children fuel healthy economies
With the coming decades expected to see the ascendance of several African markets as global economic players, malaria vaccination could be a catalyst to sustained development in the region. This serves as a benefit for nations around the world, including the U.S.
Yet, one of the most immediate ways to derail Africa’s economic potential is to hamper the very immunization programs that have delivered the most impressive returns on health investments, both in Africa and globally. That’s what is on the line later this year when Gavi, the alliance responsible for financing the delivery of more than 19 different vaccines to low-and-middle-income countries, is set to have its funding reauthorized by the U.S. and several other governments.
Gavi has written the playbook for creating an investment-driven approach to providing emerging markets with the immunization infrastructure they need to thrive. In the 24 years since its founding, the alliance has vaccinated half of the world’s children. That alone is a remarkable achievement, but the alliance has matched humanitarian outcomes with powerful financial results: Its model has proven so successful that $1 of investment in Gavi yields $54 in health savings among its beneficiary countries. Peer-reviewed research has shown a strong link between child survival rates from vaccine-preventable diseases and GDP growth.
As investments of U.S. taxpayer funds go, few if any can rival the return that Gavi brings for the roughly $300 million committed to it by the American government each year. Looking beyond the direct impact on lives saved – nearly 18 million children and counting – global immunization programs supported by Gavi have strengthened health systems in many of the most vulnerable countries of the world. These are the very places where deadly disease outbreaks have the greatest chance of growing undetected until they are uncontainable.
Continuing support for routine immunization is essential
Gavi funding helps protect Americans by blunting the relentless pace of viruses and bacteria to evolve beyond our control. Better immunization against known threats, more sophisticated early-detection systems in disease hot zones, new vaccine manufacturing capacity closer to the likely sources of outbreaks, and hospital systems that are less burdened by increasingly preventable maladies like malaria – these are the building blocks that Gavi has helped put in place to foster a healthier future for all of us.
At a time when disinformation further erodes trust in the institutions tasked with protecting public health and the spread of disease is supercharged by climate change, the value of Gavi’s time-tested model deserves to be acknowledged through funding replenishment later this year. This would send an unmistakable message to the world that we can still fulfill the hopes and dreams of billions of people by providing the lifesaving vaccines they need to have a shot at a more prosperous, peaceful future.