World leaders have been urged to support immunisation programmes in poor countries for moral reasons and to safeguard their own nations.
As a two-day summit, convened by vaccines alliance Gavi, opened in Abu Dhabi, the UAE reaffirmed its commitment to playing its part in funding international vaccine schemes in future. South Korea also backed the cause of Gavi, which has helped inoculate around 700 million children since it was set up in 2000, with a new $15 million pledge.
However, senior figures at the charity have been alarmed at a rise in nationalism in other parts of the developed world, which has seen foreign aid budgets come under increased scrutiny. Donald Trump is among the world leaders to pledge to cut levels of foreign aid, as part of his ‘America First’ drive.
Gavi relies on government funding, as well charitable foundations, with planning to raise cash for its next four-year cycle, which starts in 2020, in its early stages.
“In a world that is fractured, where we have more displaced people than we’ve had in history, infectious diseases know no bounds,” Seth Berkley, the chief executive of Gavi, said at his organisation’s mid-term review on Saadiyat Island on Monday.
“Yes, you can try to keep people who are infected out, yes, you can require vaccines from people coming. But it’s only by getting rid of those diseases and that we can really have a safe world. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s also something that’s good for all countries.”
Speaking to The National, he added: "Putting up a wall may stop people but it sure doesn't stop insects or infectious diseases. I can have dinner here in Abu Dhabi, breakfast in London or Geneva and lunch in New York, all in the incubation time of an infectious disease.
“Unless you were completely to close a country, infectious diseases will still move so the important point is you need to be thinking about this in a global way. Borders do not matter.”
Reem Al Hashimy, the UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation, pledged that the country would “continue giving a hand of help to those who need it”.
The UAE gave $33 million to Gavi between 2011 and 2015 followed by another $5 million in the current cycle for campaigns in Afghanistan. It has also invested heavily in efforts to wipe out polio, pledging $120m in 2013. On Monday, South Korea’s pledge, to be delivered over the three years to 2021, offered another boost.
Gavi has said its work has saved 10 million lives since it was set up in 2000. It has helped to ensure the immunisation of more than 288 million children in Organisation of Islamic Cooperation states, and is “well on its way” to vaccinating another 300 million children across the world by 2020.
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Among around 300 delegates attending the event are president of Niger, the prime minister of Mozambique and the former president of Tanzania.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Nigerian finance minister who is board chair at Gavi, said the scale of delivery of vaccines was a “success that the world should look at, at a time of uncertainty”.
Reflecting of efforts to vaccinate children in Yemen, which has been hit by a major cholera crisis, she said: “Immunisation for the population is not just a humanitarian thing, it is also probably one of the most cost-effective things that the international community can do for Yemen.
“For every dollar spent on immunising a child, you get $16 back in return in avoided health costs. Over a lifetime, it’s $44 in terms of benefits. So we’re not just talking humanitarian, we’re also talking about where the international community can get the most impact for their money.”