Merkel’s ‘vaccine summit’ raises $7.5 billion

Angela Merkel (centre) poses with Bill Gates (2nd from left) and others at the GAVI vaccine summit in Berlin on January 27, 2015. [Guido Bergmann / BPA/Flickr]

Over the next five years, international vaccine alliance GAVI hopes to immunise 300 million children against preventable diseases, with the German government pledging €600 million for the project. But NGOs warned that most of the money will end up pocketed by pharma giants. EURACTIV Germany reports.

At a donor conference in Berlin, the international vaccine alliance GAVI reached its goal of raising around €6.6 billion ($7.5 billion) to immunise around 300 million children in developing countries by the year 2020.

The main organiser and sponsor of the conference, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, pledged €600 million to the alliance – almost €200 million more than was previously announced.

Merkel said the increase is also needed because of the persistent Ebola crisis. “We must invest more in prevention and research,” the Chancellor emphasised.

“As a global community, we set the goal of reducing child mortality by one-third until this year. We only achieved half of that. That is a scandal,” said German Development Minister Gerd Müller.

“We owe it to the children of this world to do significant extra work here. Immunisation programmes are not the only instrument on this path, but one of the most effective,” he explained.

Besides Germany, other countries also pledged large monetary contributions. The United States committed to donating $1 billion, the British government and the Gates Foundation each signed up for $1.5 billion. EU Development Commissioner Neven Mimica hopes to send €200 million from the EU, and China said it would contribute $5 million.

With the help of the vaccine alliance GAVI, founded in 2000 at the initiative of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, almost half a billion children have been immunised worldwide. But 6.3 million children still die every year – half of them of diseases that are easily treatable or even preventable.

>>Read: EU more than doubles vaccine aid as GAVI launches appeal

GAVI provides the 73 poorest countries of the world with immunisations at prices that are five times lower than in industrialised countries. The alliance, comprised of governments, pharmaceutical firms, foundations and NGOs, finances vaccines against diseases such as diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, hepatitis B, pneumococcus, measles and polio.

Meanwhile, almost one-fourth of the 73 countries are undergoing so-called ‘graduation’ to middle-income status and will soon lose Gavi support. Critics warn this could be fatal for around 22 million children, who “are not fully vaccinated”.

Still, NGOs considered the GAVI donor conference a “complete success”. The over $7.5 billion are a huge “vote of confidence” in GAVI, said Michael Elliott, president and CEO of the anti-poverty campaign organisation ONE.

Now, Elliott said, the vaccine alliance can “continue delivering measurable, cost-effective results and ensure that more children, regardless of where they are born, can access the vaccines they need.”

Otherwise-critical NGOs were particularly positive about the German government’s engagement. For the first time, Germany is exceeding its share according to economic size, explained the organisations ONE, Plan International, Save the Children, Stiftung Weltbevölkerung and World Vision.

“Strong signal for the G7”

“The German government clearly showed that it accepts the responsibility for improving child health worldwide,” said Christoph Waffenschmidt, chairman of the board at the German branch of the child aid organisation World Vision.

”The vaccine summit is a successful start for a year in which Germany will head-up the G7,” he commented.

But in a statement for, Waffenschmidt emphasised that there is still much to be done in the fight against child mortality. Vaccinations, alone, will not get this problem under control. Among other things, he said, people in developing countries must gain better access to clean drinking water.

“As president of the G7, the German government must make sure the development agenda does not become a peripheral issue,” Waffenschmidt pointed out.

Doctors without Borders: “Vaccination producers demand overly high prices”

The organisations Doctors without Borders and Oxfam welcomed the GAVI pledges, but called for reforms within the vaccine alliance. They accused vaccination producers of having too much influence on GAVI, which is a public-private partnership. For years, the two organisations said, this has led to producers asking overly high prices on medications.

“To protect as many children in the world as possible, the donations pledged in Berlin must be efficiently employed. Because of existing intransparency on the vaccine market, companies are able to demand over-expensive prices. This is one of the reasons why still not all of the children can be vaccinated,” explained Philipp Frisch from Doctors Without Borders.

“Thus, we are calling on the organiser of the conference, Angela Merkel, to put pressure on pharmaceutical firms to lower their prices considerably. Instead of accepting the prices demanded by companies, independent examinations of actual production costs should be conducted first,” Frisch commented.

Reforms to GAVI’s system were also advised by Jörn Kalinski from Oxfam Germany. “In particular,” he said, “we are calling for a strengthening of the healthcare systems in countries that receive aid from GAVI as well as less influence from the pharmaceutical industry in the decision bodies of the vaccine alliance.”

Since 2000, 440 million children have been immunised against preventable diseases – and an estimated 6 million deaths have been avoided. But 22.6 million children are still not vaccinated and 1.5 million children under-5-years-old die annually from preventable diseases. Changing this picture may require action, not least on vaccine prices.

Every year immunisation helps avert an estimated 2.5 million deaths around the world, and millions more debilitating illnesses and disabilities. It is one of the most cost-effective health investments, with proven strategies that can reach the most dispersed and remote populations. 

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