Arguably the most important thing happening in the world today is a major meeting of policymakers, philanthropies, UN agencies, corporations and NGOs gathered in Abu Dhabi for a summit on scaling up access to childhood vaccines in the developing world.

The Gates Foundation is the driving force behind this meeting, and Bill Gates very much has his sights set on total polio eradication in the next five years.

“At the summit, donors, global leaders and partners will demonstrate their support for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan 2013-2018, the first comprehensive plan to lay out all the critical elements needed to achieve eradication.  Ending polio is an early milestone in the global roadmap to save more than 20 million lives by 2020.
“Thanks to tremendous progress in 2012, we now have a unique window of opportunity to change history and end polio,” said Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We must invest now to ensure strong immunization systems will protect our gains against polio and help us reach mothers and children with other life-saving vaccines and additional health services.”

What’s remarkable about these goals is that they are readily achievable. Ending polio forever, and saving 20 million children’s lives through expanded vaccination programs does not require any medical miracles or breakthrough technologies. We are so very near the finish line on polio — only a few hundred new infections last year, confined to just three endemic countries. From a technical standpoint, we have everything we need to end polio and end vaccine preventable childhood illness. Rotovirus, meningitis, polio, pneumcoccal and other childhood vaccines are already on the market, tested and proven to be effective.

What we now need is the political commitment and funding to bring these vaccines to every child, everywhere. Doing so can save more than 20 million lives and prevent nearly one billion illnesses by 2020. This is not cheap, but it’s not exactly a budget buster. We are talking of an investment of about $30 per child, which studies have shown can  save $12 billion in treatment costs alone, and net $800 billion in economic productivity that would have otherwise been lost to sickness or death.

So: 20 million children’s lives saved by 2020, at a cost of about $30/child for a net gain of $812 billion. It’s a no-brainer. Let’s hope that this summit results in concrete commitments from all stakeholders so that these perfectly preventable illnesses are relegated to history’s dustbin.

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