Geneva, May 20, 2009
Systems to immunize, monitor and treat still lacking in many developing countries
World Health Assembly must push anew for primary health care, better living conditions
—The World Health Organization’s call for pharmaceutical companies to donate or reduce costs of a future pandemic vaccine for poor countries that can least afford it is an important step in responding to the global threat and must be coupled with strengthening local health care in those countries, a leading aid agency said today.
While welcoming the push to have flu vaccine makers donate a portion of stocks to be produced later this year for the new H1N1 strain, World Vision warns that without simultaneous attention on distribution and basic health systems, this will have a limited impact toward saving lives where health care is already faltering. World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization working in 100 countries.
“Vaccine donations would be good news given the risks if the outbreak picks up momentum and spreads further in countries with weak health systems,” said Stefan Germann, World Vision International’s director for global health partnerships. "Though a valuable first step, strong community health systems are needed for a vaccine to reach vulnerable populations in time – otherwise, the disease may still spread unchecked and take a great toll on lives even in countries that receive stocks of vaccine.”
A lack of access to basic, primary health care means communities in poor countries are more likely to suffer from such new viruses than those in developed nations, World Vision’s emergency health specialists warned last month during the initial outbreak in Mexico
. So far, most H1N1 flu cases have been in countries with relatively mature public health systems, likely damping the speed of its spread. World Vision is concerned that the virus might have more disastrous global consequences if it gets a foothold in countries without adequate health provision.
“This potential pandemic highlights a critical weakness in the way the world has long addressed health threats,” said Dr. Mesfin Teklu, World Vision International's emergency health director, who is based in Nairobi. “Ongoing investment in strong basic health care is what will build capacity for a more rapid and robust response when crises arise.”
World Vision has been urging government officials at the annual World Health Assembly in Geneva this week to keep the topic high on their agenda and vote for a resolution establishing primary health care as a chief priority for development. This aligns with commitments these leaders have already made to reduce child and maternal mortality by 2015. Already, nearly 10 million children and mothers die each year from avoidable causes such as pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria as many countries fail to deliver on their global health promises and focus on community-based approaches.World Vision is a Christian relief and development organization dedicated to helping children and their communities worldwide reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty. We serve the world’s poor regardless of a person’s religion, race, ethnicity or gender. For more information, please visit www.worldvision.org/press.