GAVI Alliance says immunizations reduced child deaths in Vietnam

HANOI, Vietnam — Through its commitment to immunization and other child health interventions, Vietnam has drastically reduced its child deaths, the GAVI Alliance announced Nov. 20 during its partner forum.

Statistics provided by UNICEF show that over the last two decades, deaths among Vietnamese children have dropped from 56 per 1000 in 1990 to 15 in 2007.

"Immunization is at the heart of the Vietnamese Government’s strategy for improving child health," said Dr. Trinh Quan Huan, vice minister of health of Vietnam and member of the GAVI Alliance Board.

A national vaccination program against measles, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus and other vaccine-preventable diseases has played a central role in achieving the reduction.

Routine immunization coverage is 93% for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, matching the rates of most industrialized countries.

“We have been able to use GAVI support to simultaneously expand our immunization programs in urban and rural areas, while improving the delivery of health services in general,” Huan said.

Huan made the announcement at the GAVI Partners’ Forum in Hanoi, a meeting of some 400 immunization experts. Participants include ministers of health from over 30 countries and representatives from donor countries, civil society, industry, and development and research agencies.

Julian Lob-Levyt, CEO of the GAVI Alliance, said Vietnam is a good example of a worldwide trend among low-income nations that are steadily improving their immunization rates.

“What we see in Vietnam is similar to many other places — countries are taking the tools provided with GAVI support and using them to ensure that more children have an opportunity to live and thrive,” he said.

“Immunization is one of the most cost-effective ways to save lives, improve health, and ensure long-term prosperity. Vietnam illustrates the success possible through an effective immunization program.”

Lob-Levyt noted other countries that are performing extraordinarily well in immunization include Nepal, Congo, Djibouti, Gambia, Bhutan, Eritrea and Bangladesh.

“This would have been unheard of even five years ago. It’s remarkable,” he said.

“We know how tough it is for developing countries to sustain the delivery of child health interventions such as immunization, given limited resources. Vietnam has risen to this challenge and is proving that immunization, together with other cost-effective interventions, makes all the difference in improving the health of children," said Daisy Mafubelu, assistant director-general for Family and Community Health at the World Health Organization.

"Immunization and other child survival interventions are good indications of health system performance. Vietnam's outstanding achievement in consistently reaching its children with an ever-increasing number of vaccines and other life-saving interventions is an inspiring example of what can be done to realize children’s right to health," said Pascal Villeneuve, associate director of programs at UNICEF.

The GAVI Alliance, which includes among its members WHO and UNICEF, has provided Vietnam with $ 4.4 million for vaccines, $3.2 million for injection safety and $1 million for immunization services.

GAVI has also approved Vietnam’s request for an additional $21.3 million to introduce the pentavalent vaccine, a single dose of which contains antigens that protect against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib).Through mid-2009, GAVI has invested US$ 12.2 million for strengthening the health system, notably through health worker training.