Millions of children's lives and billions of dollars could be saved if vaccines were more widely available in 72 of the world's poorest countries, according to research published on Thursday.
In a series of studies in the Health Affairs journal, public health experts and scientists projected that if 90% of children in those countries were immunized, more than $151 billion in treatment costs and lost productivity could be saved over 10 years, producing economic benefits of $231 billion.
Some 6.4 million children could be saved, they found.
Yet one study, conducted by the donor-funded Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) and the Results for Developmental Institute, found that poor countries would be hard-pressed to pay for expanded vaccine programmes without help from outside donors.
The Health Affairs series was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a $34 billion fund devoted largely to health projects in poor countries. The Gates Foundation is also a major funder of GAVI.
GAVI, which funds bulk-buy vaccination programmes for nations that cannot afford Western prices, is holding a pledging conference in London next week when it wants to close a $3.7 billion funding gap for its commitments until 2015.
Childhood vaccinations against diseases such as pneumococcal pneumonia, Haemophilus influenzae type b, or Hib disease, diphtheria, pertussis, or whooping cough, tetanus, measles and rotavirus are routine in wealthier countries, but many poor countries have little or no access to these products.
Several leading drugmakers said on Monday they would cut some of their vaccine prices for developing countries to try to sustain supplies via the GAVI. [ID:nLDE7560C8]
Vaccines against diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis are within three to five years of entering the market.
"Without major assistance from international donors, the poorest countries will be hard-pressed to pay the costs to reach all of their children with life-saving vaccines," said Helen Saxenian of the Results for Development Institute in Washington, one of authors of that study.
Two other Health Affairs studies analyzed the potential benefits of children in the 72 countries getting all current routine vaccinations, plus malaria. They found it would save 6.4 million lives over 10 years and that this would translate into an economic value of $231 billion.
"Governments of developing countries constantly face the challenge of determining how much they should spend to prevent premature deaths and suffering in their populations," said Ozawa. "This research should inform these kinds of policy decisions."
GAVI says it has helped prevent more than 5 million child deaths in the last decade with its immunization programmes and will prevent 4 million more by 2015 with the necessary funds.