Bill Gates, the co-founder of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation yesterday called on African countries to draw lessons from Rwanda in rolling out national immunisation programmes to eliminate diseases that affect children.
Speaking at the World Health Assembly in Geneva- Switzerland yesterday, Gates called on African leaders to take advantage of various vaccine innovations to save millions of children from preventable diseases.
“Some countries already are doing a great job. Bangladesh, Nicaragua, and Rwanda routinely vaccinate 90 percent of their infants each year. But there are countries in Africa where some children never get a single vaccine and reaching these targets will take an unwavering commitment from leaders,” Gates told the assembly.
The billionaire philanthropist added that African leaders should be accountable to promises made in the Abuja Declaration.
“In 2001, African countries pledged to spend 15 percent of their annual budgets on health. While 27 countries have increased their health spending, only South Africa and Rwanda have met this target,” Gates said.
He cited the country’s national roll out of the pneumococcal vaccine as one of the most successful and worth emulating.
Gates observed that eight African countries, among them Rwanda, are on track to meet the Millennium Development Goals on health but noted that it is the initiative of leaders to commit to roll out the vaccines for the targets to be achieved.
“Leadership and investment in vaccine delivery are critical to reaching every last child and make progress toward achieving these goals. That’s because the best immunisation systems work when leaders diagnose weaknesses, innovate to address those weaknesses, and share the best ideas of what is working with others – and they hold themselves accountable for achieving results,” Gates said.
He said that Africa now has a precious opportunity to make vaccines central to their health system, citing the new vaccine for pneumonia – the world’s biggest killer of children under five – which was launched in Rwanda last year, as one of them.
Gates also said that the new vaccine for meningitis A, the deadly brain disease, which has since been introduced in some of Africa’s worst hit areas –Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, is one to take advantage of.
The new vaccine, MenAfriVac, is the first to be developed specifically for Africans, at an affordable cost of just 50 cents per dose.
It has already reached more than 19.5 million people, with hopes of reaching all 25 countries in the “meningitis belt” across the Sahel, and 300 million people by 2015.
Gates however said that while it is still very early to report results, the vaccine has already seen excellent early results in Burkina Faso, with just one case in the first 16 weeks of 2011.
He announced that there will be a major conference next month where donors will pledge contributions to the GAVI Alliance, the global organisation that funds vaccine programs in poor countries.
“At the Gates Foundation we are committed to working with all our partners – civil society, donors, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and national governments – to do the difficult but necessary things,”
“With the necessary leadership, I’m confident we can accomplish this.” said Gates, the biggest individual funder of GAVI alliance.