The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is receiving $30 million from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization and its financing arm, the Vaccine Fund, to accelerate the development and use of life-saving pneumococcal vaccines for children in the world's poorest countries. Through this public health effort, the school and its partners hope to prevent the deaths of nearly 2.2 million children between 2006 and 2020.
According to the World Health Organization, pneumococcal infections kill more than 1 million children each year, as many as die from malaria. Most are infants and young children who die from pneumonia and meningitis. Immunizations are urgently needed because in many countries up to 90 percent of pneumococcal strains are resistant to first-line antibiotics. Vaccines tailored to prevent the strains that are most prevalent in developing countries are in advanced stages of large-scale testing in Africa and Asia and should be available by 2006.
"In the past, lifesaving vaccines have been slow to reach the children who need them the most," says Orin Levine, an associate with the Department of International Health. "Nearly 15 years after Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine was introduced in the United States and other developed countries, less than 10 percent of the children in the world's poorest countries receive this vaccine. Our aim is to work with national and international partners to accelerate this process by 10 years or more."
The Pneumococcal Accelerated Development and Introduction Plan team at the School of Public Health, directed by Levine, will bring together experts from the public and private sectors. The team will coordinate efforts to address research, communications, supply and financing issues that impede the uptake of the vaccine in developing countries. Establishing the burden of pneumococcal disease and promoting the safety and effectiveness of pneumococcal vaccines are major priorities for the ADIP team.
As a milestone-driven project, the ADIP is a new approach to public-private partnerships for improving global health. The team sets strict project goals and aligns them with time lines and budgets; a GAVI oversight board will measure the team's performance against these objectives.
Mathuram Santosham, a professor in the Department of International Health, says that the team's approach is a departure from previous vaccine efforts. "We will take our scientific data and efficacy results directly to decision-makers in developing countries who have the power to set policy," he says. "We will support them in their efforts to establish evidence-based decisions on vaccine introduction."
Alfred Sommer, dean of the School of Public Health, says, "The school and its partners are committed to this effort. Pneumococcal infections threaten tens of millions of children throughout the world. Better vaccines and better access to vaccines could save their lives."
The announcement marks the first time that GAVI and the Vaccine Fund will fund vaccine research and development efforts. Since 2000, they have focused primarily on ensuring that existing vaccines are made available to every child, everywhere. An additional $30 million was given to the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health, a nonprofit organization focused on the health of women and children, to develop and introduce a safe and effective rotavirus vaccine for the developing world.