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$7.5 billion on the table for vaccines: Will leaders keep their word?

Hannah Bowen is director of the ACTION global health advocacy partnership. This piece originally appeared on Trust.org 

What happens when the cameras power down, the microphones are put away, and the jets take off?

That’s a question many citizens ask themselves when they see their leaders in the headlines, making a fiery speech or a bold pledge from a podium in a faraway city.

An ambitious promise

Just last month, world leaders gathered in Berlin to publicly declare that they are working together to prevent child deaths globally. At the end of the day, ambitious speeches were matched with equally-ambitious funding commitments:  Donors pledged a total of $7.539 billion over the next five years to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to accelerate access to vaccines among the world’s poorest kids.

Whether donors would meet Gavi’s funding ask of $7.5 billion remained uncertain up to the last minute – even though the investment case was solid.  If global partners raised that sum, Gavi estimated it could support the world’s poorest countries to vaccinate 300 million additional children from 2016-2020, preventing up to 6 million deaths. This number is on top of the half a billion children already vaccinated with Gavi support since its creation in 2000. 

Across the many countries where ACTION partners work, we are constantly reminded that now is a time of tight national budgets. But even under tight budget constraints, leaders said they value Gavi’s impact on child health. The extent to which donors stepped up to meet Gavi’s ambitious goal is truly astounding: Germany upped their total pledges by 311 percent from the previous 5-year period, the European Union did so by 293 percent and Canada increased its commitment by 53 percent.  And new pledges from the U.S. and UK governments each topped $1 billion.

The hard work begins

Pledges and commitments are just words – words that require careful and persistent pressure to transform into real funding for real impact. Civil society around the world must now play a watchdog role to guarantee commitments are delivered – on time. Gavi relies on long-term funding agreements, with regular and dependable payments, to reduce vaccine prices and ensure countries can plan ahead for sustainable access to new vaccines.

Over the past two years, the ACTION global health advocacy partnership has followed the funding for Gavi, tracking whether donors met previous commitments. Although our findings showed the majority of donors were on track to deliver their 2011-2015 pledges, we did highlight where more effort and follow through was needed.

The new round of 2016-2020 pledges, from a wider variety of sources, means we have more work to do. ACTION’s updated tracker shows how key donors’ pledges stack up, and sets the stage to track the delivery of funds.  

The tracker clearly shows there is room for many countries to do more to demonstrate their commitment to protecting children from preventable diseases. For instance, although Japan is slated to take over the G7 presidency after Germany, it was the only G7 country that did not chip in to fund Gavi for the next five years. France is also letting its position as a key influencer in global health and development diminish, pledging a relatively small new pledge of $212 million.

Turning dollars into lives saved

Gavi has predicted the $7.5 billion in its 2016-2020 investment case is the highest level of funding it will ever need. Thanks in large part to groundwork laid by Gavi, more children will have access vaccines thanks to nationally-funded immunization programs, and fewer countries will need to rely on the pooled global financing provided by Gavi. Twenty countries are on track to ‘graduate’ from Gavi support, and many countries are taking on an increasing share of payment for vaccines purchased with Gavi support.  

But with more funding over the next five years, Gavi can certainly do even more. The alliance has proven it can transform every additional dollar it receives into more vaccines, and more opportunity for children to grow up healthy and fulfill their potential. And exciting new vaccines in the pipeline for malaria and Ebola would have a dramatic impact on global efforts to control these two killers – but countries will need support to roll them out. Given the chance to do more, Gavi would strengthen countries’ capacity and readiness to roll out life-saving vaccines in time to make a difference.

We applaud the leaders who stood up in Berlin and inspired us with their show of support for protecting the world’s children from preventable diseases. By matching their words with funding, they proved it was not just a show – now we look forward to reporting on the delivery of their pledges and the impact will Gavi make on children’s lives using those funds.