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The power of connecting vaccines and good nutrition

  |   SUN Donor Network

*Blog by SUN Movement Coordinator Gerda Verburg on the occasion of Gavi’s third donor pledging conference, the Global Vaccine Summit 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought uncertainties and fears. Families are facing an urgent challenge: how to keep themselves and their children protected and healthy, both physically and mentally. The learning curve has also been steep. We have been given a stark reminder of how valuable vaccines are – without their protection diseases spread quickly, with terrible, lasting consequences. The lesson? In this interconnected planet, an outbreak anywhere is a threat to health and a well-nourished future everywhere.

Malnutrition is the most common immunodeficiency globally. Before the crisis, malnutrition alone contributed to an estimated 45 per cent of deaths among children under 5 in developing countries, predominantly due to infections. [1] However, in recent decades, preventable child deaths have been reduced significantly, thanks to an improved access to both health and WASH [2] services – including vaccinations and nutrition. These cost-effective actions, in addition to preventing millions of deaths each year, are building blocks for health and development and contribute to a virtuous cycle that lifts families, communities, and nations out of poverty, towards prosperity – in pursuit of all Sustainable Development Goals.

This week, the world will gather (virtually) to protect the next generation with vaccines, reduce disease inequality and create a healthier, safer and more prosperous world, on the occasion of Gavi’s third donor pledging conference. It is vital that partners that work across sectors and stakeholders, such as Gavi are fully funded, not just now but in the future, to support countries maintain immunisation programmes and strengthen primary health care. It is heartening to see countries (and companies) committing their resources for a better protected future, because they know that it makes complete sense, as does investing in nutrition.

Immunisation and good nutrition go hand-in-hand. They complement each other, with each amplifying the impact of the other. Good nutrition is key to building immunity and protecting against illness and infection. Good nutrition also helps speed up recovery.

For that reason, I’d like to use this opportunity to make a strong plea: Immunisation and nutrition interventions should be delivered together, as a core element of a comprehensive Universal Health Coverage (UHC) approach. Gavi and SUN both focus on children, counsel of mothers and families – to create a prosperous future, leaving no one behind. Thinking ahead, country systems need to become robust to anticipate the next crises. Combining vaccination and nutrition is a win-win, country-owned and driven.

As the Coordinator of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement, driven by its 61 member countries and four member Indian States, I am seeing promising opportunities to join forces in countries where both Gavi and SUN are on the ground.

Scientists are scrambling to find a vaccine for COVID-19 as bilateral, multilateral, and philanthropical partners are scrambling to meet Gavi’s funding requirement for vaccinations for everyone, everywhere. Should the world step up this week and ensure a fully funded Gavi, let us create a win-win: supporting countries and underserved communities maintain and restore immunisation and nutrition programmes against vaccine preventable diseases, while also building resilience during the recovery phase. In other words, building the future we want. And what lesson could be more powerful than that?

[1] See, for instance: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4527386/.

[2] Water, sanitation and hygiene.

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