GAVI Alliance Bringing Hope Where It's Most Needed

The GAVI Alliance, a Geneva-based nongovernmental organization that works to deliver life-saving vaccines to developing countries, has sold a vaccine to North Korea that immunizes people against five diseases and recently announced plans to introduce other vaccines in the war-torn countries of Yemen, Pakistan, and the Republic of Congo, the New York Times reports.

The alliance, which negotiates with drug manufacturers for low-priced vaccines and resells them at prices on a sliding scale based on the country's gross national income per capita, first determines the feasibility of a vaccination program, including whether the vaccines can be kept refrigerated and whether there are enough trained vaccinators to deliver the vaccines. While isolated and secretive, North Korea cooperates with UNICEF and reports high vaccination rates, GAVI Alliance CEO Seth Berkley told the Times. "They have a pretty effective system for tracking things."

In Yemen, where the mortality rate for children under the age of five is among the highest in the world, the government aims to vaccinate all one million babies born in the country each year against rotavirus, the most common cause of severe diarrhea, which is often fatal for infants and young children. "We know that diarrhea worsens malnutrition, which increases the duration of diarrhea and lessens resistance," said Berkley. "This vaccine is preventing the most serious form of diarrhea in countries across the world and can do the same in Yemen." Three additional countries are expected to introduce rotavirus vaccines in the coming months.

And in a war-torn country such as Yemen, where the government has little control over large swaths of territory, a technical committee must decide whether any vaccine plan is realistic. Still, it is not uncommon for both sides in a civil war to let vaccinators through, Berkley told the Times. Pakistan, where a polio vaccinator recently was killed, is an exception to that rule at the moment.

Donald G. McNeil Jr.. "Immunization: Group Gets Vaccines to Countries Isolated by War and Secrecy." New York Times 07/30/2012. "Yemen Introduces Rotavirus Vaccines." GAVI Alliance Press Release 08/01/2012.