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A leading UK charity has accused the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations (GAVI) — which aims to stop millions of child deaths in the world’s poorest countries — of lining the pockets of drug companies while doing little of real value to tackle the biggest killer diseases.

Save the Children, the UK’s foremost international children’s charity, warned in a statement on 15 January that GAVI may be encouraging poor nations to buy expensive new vaccines which they will not be able to afford when GAVI’s funds run out in five years’ time.
baby given polio vaccine
It also criticised the initiative — a public-private partnership launched in 1999 with the support of the World Health Organisation — for allowing private donors with potential conflicts of interest to sit on its governance board. The chief executive officer of the vaccine manufacturer Aventis Pasteur is a member of the board, for example.

“We must ensure that this initiative does not become a marketing vehicle for the pharmaceutical companies by increasing demand for expensive new vaccines without the promise of long-term funding,” said Annie Heaton, private sector research analyst at Save the Children.

The charity also announced the release of a new report, carried out jointly with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which praises GAVI for restoring enthusiasm in immunisation, but also highlights some problems.

For example, it says, Ghana was given only 10 days to decide whether or not to accept a new hi-tech vaccine, without any evidence that it was actually needed. Their decision more than doubled the annual costs of its immunisation programme.

The report — called New Products into Old Systems and based on country-level research in Mozambique, Ghana, Lesotho and Tanzania — also questions the impact of imposing new programmes and administration on collapsing national health systems.

“It’s no good just providing developing countries with vaccines if they do not have working fridges to store them in,” says Regina Keith, senior health advisor at Save the Children. “Money must be spent on the upkeep of equipment, as well as training and paying the salaries of health workers.”

Carol Bellamy, chair of the GAVI board, said that the report raises a number of valid issues, and acknowledged that GAVI partners work in an “untraditional way”.

She added: “Since the launch of GAVI and the Vaccine Fund two years ago, nearly US$39 million new dollars have been invested in strengthening ongoing immunisation services in 40 countries. An additional US$84 million have been allocated for new vaccines.”

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Image: © Marcel Crozet/WHO