• I Love Needles

    Posted by Simon

    30 March, 2012


    It’s not often that you get to hear from a person in TIME Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential People. Sure, we hear speeches from Barack Obama on TV all the time and Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook is used daily by the majority of people in the developed world. But last week, 200 plus people and myself attended a Child Survival Forum hosted by RESULTS International, primarily to hear Dr Seth Berkley speak, a 2009 member of TIME’s top 100 club. Who, you might say? A guy who, quite simply, loves needles…

    Dr Berkley is the CEO of the GAVI Alliance, a multilateral organisation that has given life-saving vaccinations to over 319 million children in the past ten years, saving an estimated 5.5 million children’s lives. Impressed now? Globally, the GAVI Alliance ranks as one of the most effective and cost-efficient multilateral organisations working to eradicate poverty. The GAVI Alliance is a unique public-private partnership that focuses solely on immunising children in developing countries against deadly diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhoea, measles and meningitis.

    Last week, Dr Berkley was at the University of Sydney for a Child Survival Forum as part of his week-long tour of Australia. He spoke about the progress the world is making against child mortality—a 35 per cent decrease since 1990—before stating the sobering point that, despite this progress, the world will most likely miss the MDG 4 target on child mortality. Dr Berkley emphasised the value of immunisation programs in helping to reduce child mortality—children are more likely to attend school, longer life expectancy, higher labour productivity and the demographic dividend (reduced fertility rates) to name a few. Overall, the economic rate of return on immunisation programs is estimated at being between 12.4 and 18.0 per cent!

    Across the world, pneumonia and diarrhoea are the two biggest killers of children under the age of five. Dr Berkley spoke at length about the GAVI Alliance’s current global programs to roll out the pneumococcal (vaccine for pneumonia) and rotavirus (vaccine for diarrhoea) to over 250 million children in the coming four years. Most interesting is the fact that each pneumococcal vaccine costs just $US3.50 and the rotavirus vaccine costs just $US2.50—saving a life for less than a cup of coffee?!

    To conclude his presentation, Dr Berkley wanted to thank Australians for our continued support of the GAVI Alliance’s work. Last June, the Australian Government committed $200 million to the GAVI Alliance over the next three years, making us the sixth largest donor in the world. The Australian Government’s investment will immunise 7.1 million children, saving an estimated 167,000 children’s lives. As Former Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said at the pledging conference, “I don’t know how we could spend our aid dollars better than in saving the lives of children’.

    It’s not often that you get to meet one of TIME’s Top 100 in person, particularly someone who has played a role in saving 5.5 million children’s lives. Just like Seth, I have decided that I too love needles… and I encourage you to love them as well. Next time you get a flu jab or take your child to the doctor for their booster shot, why not spare a prayer for the kids and families who are still waiting for the GAVI-funded vaccines to arrive?