Gavi to support immunisation of children in Syria

Gavi Board decisions also taken to strengthen emergency vaccine stockpiles and to accelerate human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine programme to protect 40 million girls against cervical cancer by 2020

Abidjan, 8 December 2016 - Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance has announced a special commitment aligned with the Syrian Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) to help partners purchase vaccines and cold chain equipment that will protect children living in war-torn Syria from deadly infectious diseases.

“In the absence of a political solution in Syria, and with millions lacking access to the most basic healthcare, we want to help vulnerable children that are now at-risk of deadly preventable diseases,” said Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Chair of the Gavi Board, which approved the decision on Thursday.

The Board has pledged an annual amount of up to US$ 25 million for 2017 and 2018 for the procurement of vaccines and cold chain equipment through UNICEF. Partners are aiming to immunise around three million children under the age of five across Syria.

“Gavi stands ready to support humanitarian actors such as UNICEF, World Health Organization (WHO) and civil society organisation and other implementing partners. They are making remarkable efforts on the ground to deliver assistance, reaching millions of people despite significant operational constraints, security issues and funding challenges,” added Dr Okonjo-Iweala.

According to WHO and UNICEF, vaccination coverage for the most basic vaccines has plummeted from 80% before the current conflict to 41% in 2015, meaning millions of children in Syria are unvaccinated. As a result, the risk of vaccine-preventable disease mortality has increased and the country faces a high risk of epidemics as evidenced by recent outbreaks of polio, measles and meningitis.

“Syria now has the fourth lowest child vaccination rate in the world,” said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi. “We must ensure that vaccines reach children in Syria. This tragedy must not be further compounded by the needless loss of lives due to infectious diseases.”

Gavi’s support will go towards vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B, _Haemophilus influenzae _type b (Hib), polio (IPV), measles and rubella.

Gavi operates in many of the most fragile settings, where health needs are often the greatest. The Gavi Board also approved a set of principles for how Gavi operates in fragile settings, in emergency contexts and with displaced populations. The new policy will be developed in the coming months.


The Gavi Board also responded to the growing number of disease outbreaks in Gavi-supported countries, such as the recent yellow fever epidemic in central Africa, by approving a new approach to Vaccine Alliance support for emergency stockpiles of meningitis, cholera and yellow fever vaccines. For diseases with limited vaccine supply, such stockpiles facilitate rapid access to vaccines during outbreaks.

Under the new approach, Gavi will make long-term funding commitments that allow our partners to plan for the future and also increase the security of supply. All Gavi-supported countries, regardless of their transition phase, will be able to access full vaccine and operational cost support. Other countries will be able to draw on emergency vaccine stockpiles but will be expected to reimburse the costs when the emergency is over.

“Emergency stockpiles can play an essential role both as part of a comprehensive disease control strategy and in maintaining global health security, but they are not a silver bullet,” said Dr Berkley. “They should be integrated into a wider strategy that builds better public health systems and improves childhood immunisation through stronger routine immunisation and pre-emptive vaccination campaigns.”

Gavi will also strengthen its engagement in support of yellow fever activities with additional funding of up to US$ 150 million for the period 2016-2020. Since 2000, Gavi has invested more than US$ 300 million in routine immunisation with yellow fever vaccines in high-risk countries, mass preventive campaigns and emergency stockpiling.


In another important decision, the Gavi Board approved an acceleration of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine programme that should allow Gavi-supported countries to protect around 40 million girls from cervical cancer by 2020, averting an estimated 900,000 deaths.

HPV is the primary cause of cervical cancer, a disease that is responsible for 266,000 deaths annually, mainly in low and middle-income countries. Based on the latest available data, cervical cancer is also the leading cause of cancer death among women in Africa.

Since 2011, Gavi has supported HPV vaccination either through national introductions or through a demonstration programme with limited scope to allow countries to prepare for national scale-up.

Countries will now be able to apply directly for Gavi-funded support for national introductions of HPV vaccine without the need for a demonstration programme. The Vaccine Alliance will also support efforts to vaccinate multiple cohorts of girls between the age of nine and 14 years old in the first year of a programme.

The Board decision represents a response to a recent recommendation by the WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunisation, which offered an opportunity for Gavi to provide wider protection against HPV. By targeting a broader age-range, the Vaccine Alliance expects more rapid indirect herd effects as well as operational efficiencies and economies.

“Gavi has achieved its goal to vaccinate one million girls by 2015,” said Dr Okonjo-Iweala. “This is an exciting opportunity to make greater impact against the HPV scourge. In Africa, where facilities to diagnose and treat cervical cancer are few, HPV vaccines will mean the difference between life and death for so many women in the prime of their lives.”

As of September 2016, 23 Gavi-supported countries have implemented an HPV demonstration programme while Rwanda, Uganda and Honduras have each introduced HPV vaccine into their national immunisation programmes.

Gavi will continue to explore synergies and partnerships with global organisations and initiatives such as Girl Effect, the Global Fund, PEPFAR’s DREAMS programme, the Organisation of African First Ladies Against HIV/ AIDS (OAFLA) to better integrate immunisation with adolescent health interventions.

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance is funded by governments (Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, the People’s Republic of China, Republic of Korea, Russia, South Africa, Spain, the State of Qatar, the Sultanate of Oman, Sweden, United Kingdom, and United States), the European Commission, Alwaleed Philanthropies, the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, as well as private and corporate partners (Absolute Return for Kids, Anglo American plc., The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, Comic Relief, the ELMA Vaccines and Immunization Foundation, Girl Effect, The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Wholesalers (IFPW), the Gulf Youth Alliance, JP Morgan, “la Caixa” Foundation, LDS Charities, Lions Clubs International Foundation, Majid Al Futtaim, Phillips, UPS and Vodafone.

Click to view the full donor list.

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Frédérique Tissandier
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