Private Sector Partnerships Can Transform Global Health

There's a growing and welcome awareness that the world's biggest health challenges have profound economic implications as well.

Illnesses such as pneumonia, measles and meningitis take an enormous personal toll on people in the world's poorest countries. I've seen this firsthand in hospitals and rural clinics from Tanzania to Haiti.

There's also a growing awareness that one of the strongest ways to prevent this is through vaccines, which have proven to be one of the most cost-effective tools in global health.

This is important information for the private sector, with global business leaders gathering this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Global health is a key topic there because companies recognize that their competitiveness and the health of communities where they do business are mutually dependent.

Vaccines are one of the most cost-effective health investments around. The cost of vaccines used to fully protect a child against the most dangerous diseases is less than U.S. $25 in GAVI countries.

And delivering vaccines provides an enormous and proven value well beyond healthcare. Healthier children -- spurred by immunisation -- attend school more frequently and longer, and learn more while they are there. As adults, they will have longer, healthier and more productive lives than those who weren't vaccinated as children.

My organisation, the GAVI Alliance, was launched at the World Economic Forum in 2000 as a public-private partnership devoted to a mission of saving children's lives and protecting people's health by increasing access to immunisation in poor countries. Ever since then -- with strong support from governments -- GAVI has worked with a variety of partners, including many in the private sector. They want to be part of something transformative.

That is why many have joined the GAVI Matching Fund, where every dollar they contribute to GAVI is matched by either the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or the U.K. Government. These companies also are providing core business skills to help GAVI overcome roadblocks and provide visibility to the cause of immunisation.

For instance, LDS Charities -- the volunteer-driven relief and development arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- arranged 1.5 million text messages to be sent during GAVI's historic double rollout of vaccines in Ghana last April.

Or consider Vodafone, one of the world's largest mobile communications companies, which is helping health ministries in GAVI-supported countries in sub-Saharan Africa use mobile technology solutions to improve their immunisation programmes.

And Comic Relief, the popular U.K. charity, has partnered with GAVI to significantly raise awareness of the need for vaccines in the developing world. Last April, it featured immunization as part of its annual appeal in the U.K., which was viewed by millions and has helped raise U.S. $24 million for GAVI.

Each of the three is making a major announcement at the World Economic Forum about the Matching Fund, bringing the total amount raised under the 18-month-old initiative to U.S. $78 million, demonstrating how the private sector has become a key driver of the very innovation required to tackle the world's biggest global health challenges.

How do we immunise an additional quarter billion children by 2015, to which GAVI has committed? With private sector partnerships, these accomplishments and many others are within our reach.