The UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for Africa calls on European institutions to live up to their leadership role in development cooperation, by providing predictable and long-term funding for vaccination of the poorest children.
Yvonne Chaka Chaka is a renowned South African musician and performer, and president of the Princess of Africa Foundation. She is also a Roll Back Malaria and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador/MDG Envoy for Africa.
Over the past seven years, I have travelled across the world as a UN ambassador and a humanitarian and met with incredibly brave mothers and patients, dedicated health workers, and passionate health activists.
Throughout this work, I have become convinced that investing in the health of our children is one of the most important investments we can make in our collective future. So I applaud the European Commission (EC) for supporting the next big moment for child health: the launch for the replenishment of the GAVI Alliance, a public-private partnership working to increase access to vaccines in poor countries.
Vaccines are an essential part of our global fight against preventable child deaths. In the last 25 years, the world has succeeded in almost halving the number of under-five child deaths. Vaccines are one of the best methods we have to save children’s lives and to improve their health. Not only do immunizations save lives and prevent children from getting sick, but one single shot can provide lifelong protection, making vaccines one of the most cost-effective health investments in history.
Despite incredible progress, one in five children around the world still cannot access even basic life-saving immunizations. We owe our collective attention and commitment to the 18,000 children that still die from largely preventable causes every day.
This is a matter of justice. As we reach the 2015 deadline of the current Millennium Development Goals, we must ensure every child – no matter where they are born – has the right to grow up healthy, free from the fear of preventable but deadly diseases like pneumonia or diarrhoea.
It’s also a matter of economics. Expanding access to vaccines will ensure more children can grow up healthy, which can help break the cycles of poverty that keep families, communities, and countries from reaching their full potential. Research estimates that the economic benefits of vaccines are 20 times greater than the cost.
By building on the expertise of its partners, GAVI has become an essential part of ensuring we reach these vulnerable children. By shaping vaccines markets, GAVI accelerates the uptake of underused and new vaccines in more than 70 of the worlds’ poorest countries. As a result, investments enabled partner countries to immunize an additional 440 million children – that’s equal to the combined populations of the USA, the UK, and France –averting the death of 6 million children.
The EC will host the pre-replenishment conference of the GAVI Alliance on May 19 and 20, representing an opportunity to explain how much investment is needed to maximise economic and health impact until 2020, and to turn hope into reality for hundreds of millions of children, their parents, and their communities.
Both EC President José Manuel Barroso and EU Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs will open the conference, which will gather Ministers of Development and Finance from EU countries, Ministers of Health from African countries, a few African Presidents and other big development donors like Australia and Canada. As one of the guests, I want to urge our leaders to take the lead in putting child health at the forefront of their political agendas.
I have seen African leaders committing to ensure healthy lives but greater international support can make the difference in reaching the fifth child. To European and African leaders who will gather in Brussels next month I say: beautiful speeches and promises will not reduce child mortality alone. Concrete actions are needed. The daily work of providing vaccines to the world’s poorest children requires predictable and long-term funding. I call on the EU and all actors involved in EU budget negotiations to be ambitious and to ensure that the EU institutions play its role as a leader in development cooperation. It’s a matter of life and death.