On a mission to save children’s lives
Dagfinn Høybråten visits Seattle, Wash., to discuss life-saving vaccines
Dagfinn Høybråten, Norwegian MP and former Minister of Health is well known as the father of the then so controversial, now rather popular, Norwegian anti-smoking legislation. His zeal for preventive health has led him to his new role as the new Board Chair of the GAVI Alliance which aim is to save children’s lives and protect people’s health by increasing access to immunisation in poor countries.
“I am passionate about GAVI and its mission. How is it possible not to be?” Høybråten explains. “The core of my passion lies in the opportunity that GAVI offers to save lives with vaccines, one of the most efficient public health tools for fighting disease and poverty.”
On Feb. 8, Høybråten visited Seattle and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, where he had discussions with Mr. Gates about future challenges and opportunities for the GAVI Alliance. The Alliance brings together developing countries and donor governments, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank, the vaccine industry in both industrialised and developing countries, research and technical agencies, civil society, and private philanthropists. Bill Gates and the Foundation is one of the GAVI’s tmajor donors and an important advocate for GAVIs aim to eliminate vaccine-preventable diseases.
GAVI’s success as a vertical health programme is undeniable. Over the past decade, it has immunised about 288 million children and saved more than 5 million lives. Høybråten puts its success down to the “GAVI Alliance’s pragmatic mix of private and public partners that combines public health knowledge with financial astuteness.”
Now, the organisation is about to begin the rollout of two new vaccines against rotavirus and pneumococcus, which are major childhood killers in the developing world. Preventing rotavirus, which causes severe diarrhoea, could save half a million lives a year. If fully funded, GAVI could avert another four million deaths from 2011 to 2015. To be able to do this GAVI needs to raise US$ 3, 7 billion in new donor commitments.
With this Dagfinn Høybråten is facing one of the hardest fund raising challenges of his career. But Høybråten strongly believes he have a unique case for investment: “Vaccines is one of the most cost effective ways to improve health in the long term. If you invest in vaccines you are guaranteed results. In five years we can prevent the death of four million children. In my relatively long time in public health and politics, I’ve never seen an opportunity like this.”
Last time the Norwegian MP and Party leader was in Seattle was less than a year ago when he acted as the Grand Marshall of the 17th of May celebrations in the Seattle-Tacoma area. He is an alumni of Luther College, Decorah, Iowa and holds an honorary degree from Luther.