x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Immunisation summit plays a vital global role

This week's Vaccine Summit in Abu Dhabi is a fine example of the best sort of co-operation between philanthropists and governments.

Abu Dhabi has positioned itself on the front line of the global battle against preventable childhood diseases. The Crown Prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, has partnered with billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates to host the two-day Vaccine Summit, which starts in the capital today. Its aim is to continue the momentum of the "Decade of Vaccines" project to give children across the world access to the immunisations they need to live healthy and productive lives.

Participants - including representatives from the World Health Organisation, Unicef, the GAVI Alliance, donors and world leaders - will demonstrate their support for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative's Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan 2013-2018.

Summit attendees will hear that the fight against polio, which once killed or maimed millions of children worldwide, has almost been won. With continued support for vaccination programmes, this disease will follow smallpox to the dustbin of history.

The Abu Dhabi summit will also mark the continuation of a long-term partnership which, in January 2011, saw the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Sheikh Mohammed each pledge $50 million (Dh184 million) for the purchase of vaccines and their delivery to children in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But there are some things money can't buy - and in this war the main enemies are ignorance and ambivalence. They manifests themselves on different fronts - in developed countries, where there is a small but significant trend against the immunisation of children, based on a discredited link between childhood MMR (measles, maps, rubella) injections and autism, and in parts of Pakistan, where nurses and other immunisation workers have been killed by extremists who oppose the provision of these vital medicines.

Immunisation makes sense for many reasons, starting with saving millions of human lives. And, as Mr Gates and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon point out on the opposite page, healthier populations will contribute to greater economic growth in those countries that need it the most.

By supporting immunisation programmes, governments, charities, businesses and individuals are facilitating a dramatic reduction in the number of childhood deaths, healthier lives for entire populations, and a lifeline out of poverty for millions of people worldwide.

These admirable goals deserve our unequivocal support. And this week in Abu Dhabi, governments and donors will have an opportunity to provide it.