Marie-Ange Saraka-Yao, Managing Director for Resource Mobilisation and Private Sector Partnerships, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance
A few weeks ago, the Canadian government unveiled its 2018 budget, which marks a welcome push towards more predictable and effective financing for international assistance. With its ambitious new Feminist International Assistance Policy in place, Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s budget pledged $2 billion over five years to increase international aid through a new International Assistance Innovation program, marking the biggest increase in Canadian foreign aid in 16 years.
Canada’s renewed commitment to invest in innovation and private sector partnerships came as welcome news for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance – the organisation I work for. Since its inception, Gavi support has contributed to the immunisation of nearly 640 million children. Although vaccination rates have reached record levels in low-income countries – at around 82% for the main 5-in-1 vaccine – there are still 1.5 million children under the age of five dying every year from vaccine-preventable diseases. Growing up in Côte d’Ivoire, I have seen first-hand the benefits of immunisation, and the poverty that healthcare costs can inflict on families without them.
However, the challenge we face today is that the children that are missing out on vaccinations are not just the last to be reached, they are also the hardest to reach. For these children, we need to go beyond existing approaches and find innovative ways to reach them. This is where business know-how and support of partners like Canada can play a major role.
Businesses bring with them a wealth of experience and innovation which together have huge problem-solving potential for developing-world scenarios. This focus on innovation and technology creates opportunities to tackle gender disparities to accelerate vaccine uptake in hardest-to-reach areas. Through improved logistics, data and delivery of vaccines, businesses can make a real difference, helping to bridge the immunisation gaps and bottlenecks that exist. This will allow us to protect more of the world’s most vulnerable children from diseases like diphtheria, measles, and the two biggest killer of under-fives, pneumonia and diarrhoea.
To achieve this, Gavi launched a new programme in 2016 called Innovation for Uptake, Scale and Equity in Immunisation, or INFUSE. As a long-standing partner of Gavi, Canada has been a major supporter of this innovation acceleration platform.
The aim is to identify companies with exciting technologies that are relevant to the modernisation and improvement of immunisation systems. INFUSE provides developing countries with a means of expert review of these innovative solutions and businesses with introductions to the right people within governments, with Gavi acting as an informed middleman. It also helps both sides find the necessary funding to expand and grow. As part of its 2018 call, INFUSE is looking for new proven digital technology for registration and verification of identity to accelerate and improve immunisation coverage and delivery. This wouldn’t just assist vaccine programme managers, but parents too. Connecting mothers to digital vaccine records could even empower them to take a more active role in protecting their children’s health, enabling more girls and boys to get immunised.
By scaling up these innovations with the support of partners like Canada, Gavi hopes to use a new way of working to achieve our goal of reaching a further 300 million of the world’s poorest children with vaccines by 2020.