September 14, 2010 / 6:43 PM / 9 years ago

Vaccine drives face multibillion funding shortfalls

GENEVA (Reuters) - A push to protect millions of children against preventable diseases has hit financial trouble, with private donations for vaccines falling short, new figures released on Tuesday showed.

Gustav Arrella, 4, reacts as he gets a shot of a vaccine in Haltom City, Texas October 30, 2009. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

In a report launched with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the GAVI Alliance revealed a $4.3 billion shortfall for its programs that are meant to offer immunization to 110 million children by 2015.

“Significant financial gaps pose a threat to maximizing the potential lives which can be saved with vaccination,” said the report, launched ahead of a United Nations summit where the effect of the global downturn on aid will be in focus.

GAVI, which distributes nearly $1 billion in assistance a year, received only $7 million from private donations in 2009, among the largest from the foundation of one of Spain’s largest savings banks, La Caixa.

In 2008, it took in $13.5 million in private contributions.

Governments, many of whose budgets have been squeezed by the financial crisis and economic stimulus packages, have been left to cover the rest of the costs.

Pharmaceutical companies negotiate rates for vaccines bought by GAVI but have not given direct financial assistance to the campaign this year, GAVI spokesman Jeffrey Rowland said.

While some vaccination campaigns have yielded significant results — measles deaths declined 78 percent from 2000 to 2008, for instance — children in poorer countries remain threatened by preventable diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhea.

An IFRC-supported international campaign to eradicate polio, a disease that can cause life-long paralysis in children, is also $1.3 billion short for its activities in 2010-2012, meaning that disease surveillance and immunization drives are being scaled back, according to the report.

The GAVI Alliance and IFRC described immunization as a public health “best buy.” Every dollar invested in a vaccine saves an average of $14.50 in health care costs, they said, citing U.S. research.

Reporting by Laura MacInnis; Editing by Stephanie Nebehay and Mark Heinrich

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