For the children of the world: survive past five

Speech to Global Alliance on Vaccines and Immunisation Conference

Speech. Check against delivery, E&OE


12 June 2011

There is something very special about a child under five.

The magic first years, when you see their first smile, hear their first word, and catch them after their first faltering steps.

For parents, there is something wondrous about that time that never fades, even with the passing of the years.

But every year, about eight million of these children never make it to their fifth birthday — because they are struck down by a disease that we have the means to prevent.

We are often numbed by numbers.

But if we think for just a moment — it's like losing the entire population of Sweden each year — with all of them being toddlers.

As parents we can only imagine the loss it represents to the families whose children are lost.

This is why the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) matters.

It is about making a fundamental difference.

Put simply it is about surviving past five.

That is why we have come here today to renew and redouble our commitment to the children of the world.

Because GAVI can give what parents most fear losing.

GAVI gives life.

Nelson Mandela reminds us of the tragic lottery into which we are born.

Mandela says: 'Life or death for a young child too often depends on whether he [or she] is born in a country where vaccines are available or not'.

We come here tonight to even things up.

We come here to do as much as we can, with all we have.

Those of us in the difficult business of delivering more effective aid programs — whether for Australia, for the UK or for private donors — want to get the best results.

We all want the precious dollars of our citizens to go as far as they can.

I don't know how we could spend our aid dollars better than in saving the lives of children.

It is something on which you can not put a price.

Although GAVI comes close — give just a few dollars to GAVI and they vaccinate a child.

Over the past decade GAVI has helped countries to:

  • immunise more than 257 million children
  • prevent an estimated 5.4 million future deaths through routine immunisation
  • raise immunisation rates in poor counties to an unprecedented 80 per cent average
  • reduce the time lag for introducing new vaccines, such as for Hepatitis B, into poorer countries.

Today, this day, the 12 of June 2011, for those from the Christian tradition, this Pentecost Sunday, we have the potential to save millions of lives.

How often do you come to a conference that offers the potential to save four million lives?

That's the entire population of Melbourne.

That's the scale of the difference we can make today.

Australia brings its funding commitment to this meeting.

But we also bring Australian science.

The distinguished Australian scientist Sir Gustav Nossel reminds us that Ruth Bishop and her colleagues at Royal Melbourne Hospital identified Rotaviruses in 1973.

She set a challenge to scientists to stop this killer disease in its tracks.

And 30 years ago, Australian doctors in PNG demonstrated the life saving potential of a pneumococcal vaccine.

Others from many countries have made vital advances — allowing the human family to eradicate smallpox and make the end of polio a possibility.

And our scientists, together, now have vaccines that can prevent whooping cough, meningitis, and human papaloma virus.

As Rajiv Shah puts it 'today we stand on the cusp of the next generation of scientific, technological and operational breakthroughs in global health.

If we can find the courage to do things differently and quickly deliver these breakthroughs to the field, we can usher in a new decade of unprecedented global gains.'

And so we come here today armed with courage, with hope, with confidence, and with science.

We come here to commit to the lives of children.

We come here because it is good, it is right, and it is fair.

We come here because people — in my case Australians — believe it is the right thing to do.

Children in their thousands from across our wide land have written to me to urge me to strengthen our pledge.

Adele from the Illawarra Christian School in Albion Park in NSW, wrote to me.

She wrote and decorated this little card.

She wrote 'Dear Kevin Rudd, Please hear our message as we shout out for the voiceless — even through the howling wind, we will be heard.'

Well Adele, we hear you.

We know what you want.

And we intend to do what we say.

For Adele, and for the millions of Australians who share her call, I commit Australia to increase its contribution to GAVI to 200 million dollars.

Between now and 2013, I'm advised this investment will fund an estimated 7.1 million life saving vaccines for the children of the world.

A vaccination is a gift that people with little else, with no fixed address, no certain future, can carry with them forever.

I'd like to thank the British Government for their leadership in this global campaign on vaccination and immunisation.

I'd like to thank Bill Gates for his extraordinary leadership in this campaign.

I'd like to thank each of you tonight for your contributions as well.

We make our commitment confident that others will follow us in coming days to make their pledges.

Confident that together we can save the lives of millions of children.

Confident that we are doing the right thing.

Confident that Adele is right — and that the under fives of our world deserve nothing less.


Media enquiries

  • Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555