Immunization: a Central Component of the Muskoka Initiative

This is the first blog in our World Immunization Week Series, featuring a piece every day from a different ACTION partner. Today's blog is from Julie Savard Shaw (@jsavshaw), Campaigns Officer with RESULTS Canada.

Ten years after the creation of the Millennium Development Goals, it became apparent that the global community was failing to reduce child mortality and improve maternal health (MDGs 4 and 5). Canada responded to this by leading the G8 to launch the Muskoka Initiative for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) in 2010.

The Muskoka Initiative focuses on achieving significant progress on health system strengthening in developing countries facing high burdens of maternal and under-five child mortality. The Initiative recognizes that improving maternal and under-five child health requires comprehensive, high impact and integrated interventions at the community level. Following on Canada’s leadership pledge of $1.1 billion, G8 and non-G8 countries committed a total of $7.3 billion to the Muskoka Initiative.

Since 2010, great strides have been made thanks to the Muskoka Initiative, but more progress is needed. In 2012, more than 6.6 million children under the age of five died from preventable diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria, and measles.[1] Without faster progress on reducing preventable diseases, the world will only meet the MDG for child survival in 2028—13 years after the deadline.[2]

Vaccines prevent an estimated 2.5 million deaths each year and give children the opportunity to live a healthier life.[3] Nonetheless, over 22 million of the world’s poorest children still do not receive the basic life-saving vaccines that are routine in most industrialized countries.[4]

The GAVI Alliance’s mandate to save children’s lives and protect people’s health by increasing access to vaccines in poor countries is strongly aligned with the goals of the Muskoka Initiative to reduce child mortality. For 2011-2015 alone, GAVI estimates that an additional 243 million children will be immunized, preventing approximately 3.9 million deaths. [5]

What is more, the GAVI Alliance’s future strategy for 2016-2020 supports the Muskoka Initiative’s priority of improving equity of health care and reaching the farthest to reach children with health interventions. Routine immunization campaigns to remote communities often serve as a platform to deliver other health interventions such as vitamin A supplements and maternal supplements such as iron.

This past February in Mbeya, a rural city in southeast Tanzania, I had the opportunity to visit expanded programs on immunization (EPI) being served by a handful of dedicated community health workers. I witnessed first-hand the impact that the immunization of children through the delivery of vaccines in remote areas had on local families. Health workers often walk for hours with their small cooler filled with vaccines in an effort to access remote communities and reach the hardest to reach children.

There, outside Mbeya, I observed how routine immunization serves as a platform to deliver other critical health interventions and contributes to building a stronger health system. Women line up for hours so that their children can receive vaccines, get weighed, and be given vitamin supplementation.

To increase coverage to the most remote areas and be able to focus on the poorest, thereby reaching children that most often lag the furthest behind when it comes to MDG4, the GAVI Alliance will need to be fully funded for 2016-2020.

As the Muskoka Initiative comes to an end and as Canada prepares to host an MNCH Summit at the end of May 2014, the world community has the opportunity to build on this momentum and recommit to reducing child mortality through vaccines and immunization.