“I saw a child struggling for breath in her father’s arms… She must not be joined by countless others”

Lord Boateng was in Ghana for World Immunisation Week; read an account of his visit.

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Lord Boateng was in Ghana for World Immunisation Week to visit the country of his childhood where he received the polio vaccine more than 50 years ago.

Last month Ghana became the first African country to introduce pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines at the same time, simultaneously tackling the leading causes of the world’s two biggest childhood killers – pneumonia and diarrhoea.

Lord-Boatentg-Ghana-visitToday, in Ghana, two of the biggest child killers are pneumonia and diarrhoea. These two diseases account for an estimated 20% of all under-5 deaths in the country, but are largely preventable through the introduction of the pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines.

Pneumonia and diarrhoea together kill more than 2.7 million children under five every year and 95% of the diarrhoea deaths caused by rotavirus are in the developing world.

In Ghana the fatal impact of these diseases is very real. I was in Ghana last month with the GAVI Alliance, a unique partnership between governments, north and south, civil society, and private sector philanthropists and businesses that has revolutionised the market in and delivery of vaccines globally and saved the lives of millions.

See video:

The origins of GAVI’s funding lie in the very special coming together of activists and government that led to the UK’s historic commitments to the UN 0.7% of GDP target for development.

This is an enduring achievement of the last Labour government, which has seen the development of a new national consensus. One of the primary outcomes has been that David Cameron and Andrew Mitchell, who hosted the last funding conference for GAVI, have committed a further £814 million to the cause.

This recognises not simply the need I see so clearly demonstrated in Ghana and indeed throughout my work in Africa but also of the effectiveness of GAVI and its unique model, which builds local ownership whilst intervening in world markets to reduce the cost of vaccines to developing nations through innovative funding mechanisms.

I worked with Gordon Brown on the International Finance Facility for Immunisation (IFFIm) (IFFIM), when I worked at the Treasury, and this was one of the first of these new mechanisms. It was designed and championed by a special partnership between the Treasury, the city, and civil society including the Vatican and was a groundbreaking approach to securing sustainable funding for development.


See also:

Britain should be proud of the progress made in battling pneumonia 14 Nov 2011

How many more children could GAVI be saving? 14 Jun 2011

Kenya’s fight against childhood mortality 23 Feb 2011

Sierra Leone – the quiet fightback 28 Nov 2010

Act now to prevent millions of child deaths 16 Nov 2009


In Ghana I have been able to see firsthand the product of a next generation initiative, the Advanced Market Commitment (AMC), which is delivering life saving pneumococcal vaccines to the poorest countries at a 90% price reduction compared to the cost in the US and EU.

And it has accelerated the pace of delivery so that by 2030, 7 million deaths could be prevented by accelerating access to lifesaving pneumococcal vaccines.

On a visit to the Princess Marie Louise Hospital in central Accra I saw a child struggling for breath in the arms of her father, whilst a weeping mother looked on; this child must not be joined by countless others.

Politics and the budget process that protects DFID’s spending are too often cirticised by so many in the sadly cynical and disillusioned country that we have become. Not least by so many young people who have been turned off completely by the whole process.

We all need reminding from time to time why politics and the contest of ideas and values matter so desperately. And why we need to restore and revitalise our own politics.


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