Pneumonia

On the first World Pneumonia Day, spare a thought for the mothers and fathers of the five thousand children who will be killed today by pneumonia.

Pause for a moment in silent thanks to the staff of the GAVI Alliance which works to get immunisation to children in developing countries.

If you pay taxes in Italy, the UK, Canada, Norway, or Russia, pat yourself on the back.  Your government has contributed to a market-based financing mechanism called the Advance Market Commitment, or AMC.  This provides  an incentive for vaccine makers to produce suitable vaccines in the necessary quantities at an affordable price for developing countries. The result is that GAVI has been able to reduce the current price of existing pneumococcal vaccines by up to 90%.

In the past, it often took 15 or 20 years before vaccines developed for rich countries were sold at affordable prices in developing countries.  Because of the Advance Market Commitment, four vaccine suppliers are now offering pneumo vaccines, specifically developed for the the developing world at affordable prices.

This is aid at its best: creating financial incentives for companies to bring their expertise and innovation to the table to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems.  Donors only pay for vaccines that actually get delivered and used. This money will save the lives of about seven million children over the next 20 years.

We owe a debt to Michael Kremer and Rachel Glennerster for the idea, to the Center for Global Development (especially Ruth Levine) for developing a practical proposal, to Carlos Monticelli from the Italian Finance Ministry who steered a group of donors to make it happen, to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for paying for background research, to Orin Levine, Gargee Ghosh, Amy Batson, John Hurvitz, Andrew Jones, Susan McAdams, and many others for making it happen.

And to the countless bureaucrats and nay-sayers who thought it could never happen: yah-booh-sucks.

3 comments on “Pneumonia”

  1. I had never heard of the GAVI Alliance before reading your blog post. I just donated $100 and told them that you brought their charity to my attention. I hope that the immunization of an extra family brings as much joy to your life today as it did to mine. Best regards and keep up the great work, TAM.

    Owen replies: I am very touched; and you have indeed brought joy to my day. I cannot speak on behalf of the family you have helped today, but somebody, somewhere owes their life to you.

    And thank you for standing up for what I firmly believe: that those of use who believe in science and rationality are also capable of high ethical standards – often higher, in my view, than those who act out of religious belief.

  2. I read your article with particular interest, having had pneumonia a couple of years ago. I only had a mild version, but it knocked me out for quite a while.

    I hadn’t really appreciated the role of GAVI here, but it does seem an effective use of aid resources – getting the incentives right to bring in the expertise and (medical) technology that is needed.

    So I was then a little disappointed by your comment about those who act on the basis of science and rationality “often” doing do so on the basis of “higher” ethical standards than those with religious beliefs. Strikes me as a massive (and rather flippant) generalisation that doesn’t really fit with the rational and logical approach you take in the rest of your blog.

    Owen replies: Pete – thanks. I don’t think that people who act out of fear of punishment, or in the hope of some reward, on a future Judgement Day are acting to the same ethical standard as people who reach a judgement about the right thing without thinking that they will be subsequently rewarded for doing so. And a substantial part of what some people believe they have been instructed to do by a religious authority – from promoting the spread of AIDS by criticising the use of condoms, oppressing women or blowing themselves and other people up – is downright harmful. But I accept that evil acts are not restricted to religious people, any more than good ones are.

    You are right that my remark was flippant, and that it is a massive generalisation. But I’m unapologetic about saying that it is what I believe.

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Owen Barder

Owen is Senior Fellow and Director for Europe at the Center for Global Development and a Visiting Professor in Practice at the London School of Economics. Owen was a civil servant for a quarter of a century, working in Number 10, the Treasury and the Department for International Development. Owen hosts the Development Drums podcast, and is the author Running for Fitness, the book and website. Owen is on Twitter and