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The Nations’ Economy Can be Improved by Investing in Immunization - Dr. Okonjo Iweala

The Chairman of GAVI board, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has revealed that for every dollar spent on childhood immunization, nations will save $16 in healthcare costs, lost wages and lost productivity due to illness.

She said if governments take into account the full value people place on living longer, there would be a further increased return on investment to as much as $44.

Okonjo-Iweala who is  Nigeria’s former Coordinating Minister for Economy and Minister of Finance in Nigeria, stated this during an interview with a Japanese radio station, NHK, saying with more than 30 vaccine doses administered worldwide every second, immunization was already recognized as one of the most cost-effective health interventions.

According to her, over 1.5 million children are still dying from vaccine preventable diseases because of lack of political will, particularly from finance ministers, “ and because of lack of understanding within governments that vaccines aren’t just good value for money, but are an investment.

“In addition, there is a widespread assumption within governments and beyond that childhood mortality is a matter only for health ministers. In reality, it has implications for just about every aspect of government. Preventing illness through immunization can have a huge impact in helping to contribute to the social and economic well-being of individuals, families, communities and countries,” she added.

While stating that the bulk shouldn’t stop with health ministers alone, she said protection of child health needs to be a concern for all governments. “After all, children are not just the most vulnerable members of society, they are also a nation’s future. And, if this alone weren’t enough to make childhood disease prevention a national priority, compelling new evidence suggests it also makes sound economic sense, too,” she stressed.

Okonjo-Iweala, who became the head of GAVI board in September last year, explained that strong routine immunization programmes form a vital part of robust universal health systems, which are themselves critical to helping national leaders achieve economic and development targets.

She said to put a figure to the narrative, a new study published recently in the Journal Health Affairs looked at 94 low and middle-income countries, and predicted that between 2011 and 2020, childhood immunization stands to offer up to $1.43 trillion in economic benefits.

“However, if we wish to harness these benefits, as well as further economic returns beyond 2020, then we need to see greater long-term domestic commitment towards immunization.

Since 1990 we have seen childhood mortality more than halve and since 2000 witnessed more than 500million additional children receive vaccines, thanks to organizations like UNICEF, the World Health Organization and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, of which I am the board chair. But if this kind of progress is to be sustained then we need to see strong immunization policy backed up by long-term health spending allocation.

“This means we need to stop preaching to the choir by focusing only on health ministers, and instead engage all aspects of government, in particular finance ministers. As former finance minister of Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, I know how important it is for health ministers to make a better case for immunization to finance ministers when it comes to defending their health budget. They need to make finance ministers understand the critical role that reducing infectious disease has in boosting the economy, and the role they have to play in making that happen,” she stressed.

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