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GAVI Alliance Visit to Myanmar (Burma)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

19 million children in developing countries do not receive life-saving vaccines that parents in wealthy nations take for granted. Each year 1.7 million children die from a vaccine-preventable disease.

Vaccines are one of the best ways to ensure a child has the opportunity of a healthy life as they prevent disease and by preventing disease, are far more cost-effective than hospitalisation.

The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI Alliance) was launched in 2000 to fund vaccines for children in the world’s 70 poorest countries.

The GAVI Alliance brings international organisations such as the United Nations and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with donor governments (eg Australia), developing countries (eg Myanmar)  and the pharmaceutical industry to work collectively to fund, manufacture, distribute vaccines across the world.

Australia, through our foreign aid, is a significant contributor to the GAVI Alliance with pledges and donations at AUD 484 million.

I recently attended a GAVI Alliance Study tour to Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, one of the poorest countries in South East Asia to examine how Australia’s aid funding to the GAVI Alliance is seeing more children vaccinated and Myanmar’s health system strengthened.

After arriving in Yangon, the former capital of Myanmar and biggest city, we were briefed by the health teams from the World Health Organisation, Unicef and AusAID and inspected a cold storage facility in Yangon used as the central vaccine store.

We then travelled to the new capital, Nay Pyi Taw, a six hour bus ride north of Yangon. Nay Pyi Taw has been designed and built since 2005 and features the magnificent Uppatasanti Pagoda, a Buddhist temple standing 99 metres tall. The Uppatasanti is a replica of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon.

In Nay Pyi Taw, I attended the launch ceremony for the pentavalent and measles second dose vaccines with the Ministry of Health.  With one injection, the pentavalent vaccine protects children against five deadly diseases; diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and meningitis. The second dose measles campaign is to target those children who missed out during the first vaccination program. The Ministry of Health and GAVI use public launches to highlight the benefits of vaccinations and gain significant promotion across the country.

As Nay Pyi Taw is the capital of Myanmar, the delegation visited Parliament House where we were met by the Speaker and members of the health promotion committee.

The study tour then ventured outside of the city to the townships of Thagara and Yedashe, south of Nay Pyi Taw. Here we inspected the health centres and observed immunisations.

On returning to Yangon, we visited the Rangoon War Cemetery where 1381 Commonwealth servicemen of the Second World War are buried or commemorated.

The trip to Myanmar opened my eyes to the power of Australia’s foreign aid efforts. Together with many other nations, we are funding life-saving vaccinations for some of the world’s poorest children, giving them the opportunity to go to school and have a healthy life.

Myanmar has turned a corner in the past two or three years with a general election in 2010 and a by-election, which was well contested by the opposition party, held earlier this year. President Sein’s Government have released over 500 political prisoners, progressed peace with ethnic groups, and instigated new laws to provide for greater freedom of expression and assembly, labour rights and political participation.

Australia has reacted positively to these reforms, and earlier this year we removed economic sanctions and began to normalise trade between our countries. Lifting the sanctions will encourage the reform process in Myanmar and boost the economic prospects of ordinary people. Australia has maintained our arms embargo.

For more information on the GAVI Alliance, visit www.gavialliance.org.

For more information on Australia’s foreign aid program, visit Australian AID www.ausaid.gov.au.

 

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