Pacific Health Summit: WHO Director General stresses strengthening health systems

21-23 JUNE 2011| SEATTLE, USA

Decision-makers in business, medicine, public health, and public policy gathered to discuss the profound impact and promise of vaccines at the 2011 Pacific Health Summit. Every year since its inception in 2005, the summit has brought together key global health figures from around the world to tackle a different challenge. The theme of this year’s summit was “Vaccines: Harnessing Opportunity in the 21st Century.”

With some 20 percent of the world’s children having no access to vaccines, organizers stressed the need to develop innovative approaches to increase immunization coverage, including through private sector opportunities, community-built solutions, and increased acceptance of immunization by healthcare workers and parents.

Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, addressed funding concerns surrounding global immunization efforts in her opening remarks at the summit: “As I have heard on many occasions, a vaccine that is too expensive for the developing world is worse than no vaccine at all.”

She then went on to point out recent developments that give her confidence this issue is surmountable: “On 6 June, leading drug companies announced dramatic slashes in vaccine prices for the developing world, including a 95% price cut on the new rotavirus vaccine that can prevent diarrhoeal deaths. On 13 June, donors pledged more than $4 billion to support the work of GAVI, an amount that exceeded anyone’s wildest dreams. This money will certainly hasten the introduction of new vaccines and expand vaccination campaigns in Africa’s meningitis belt, which has 25 countries.”

Dr Chan acknowledged that critics still have good reason to fear that immunization efforts are threatened by a lack of basic infrastructure for delivering vaccines and the crumbling of public health services, after years of neglect, throughout most of the developing world. But she gave her assurance that strengthening of health systems has become a priority on the international health agenda, pointing out that the May Health Assembly adopted no fewer than 5 resolutions setting out ways to build stronger health systems that extend affordable services to the poor.

“This decade of vaccines has a vision, and vision always feeds that perennial optimism of public health that keeps us going despite the many obstacles and setbacks thrown our way by policies and events beyond our control,” she said. “This decade will help realize the full power of immunization to prevent morbidity and mortality. And the young lives saved from death or life-long disability will be numbered in the millions.”