By Aminu Magashi Garba
According to a press statement made available on 21 September 2015 in GAVI website the internationally renowned development economist and former Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been appointed Chair-elect of the Board of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. She will take up the position of Chair from January 2016.
Dr Okonjo-Iweala will bring more than 33 years of development and financial expertise to the Gavi Board at a critical period for immunisation in developing countries. Despite record coverage rates, every year around 19 million children are still missing out on a full course of the most basic vaccines. Additionally, more than 20 countries with growing economies are preparing to transition from Gavi support by 2020, meaning they will take on the full cost of their immunisation programmes.
The statement highlighted that increased access to immunisation has been a major factor in the 53% fall in child mortality between 1990 and 2015. Gavi currently supports more than 310 immunisation programmes in 73 of the world’s poorest countries and has so far committed US$ 1.2 billion towards helping them to strengthen their health systems. Since 2000, Gavi has supported the immunisation of more than half a billion additional children, leading to seven million future deaths being averted.
Also observed that over the next five years, Gavi aims to support countries to immunise an additional 300 million children, leading to a further five to six million lives being saved. Vaccine Alliance support will also see a 10-fold increase in the proportion of children in Gavi-supported countries receiving all 11 vaccines recommended by WHO – rising from 5% today to 50% by 2020.
“I am excited to be joining Gavi during this crucial time,” said Dr Okonjo-Iweala. “Gavi has a well-earned reputation as one of the leading players in global health, providing services that underpin human and economic development. We must build on this solid foundation to create sustainable programmes that will drive down vaccine-preventable diseases, reach every child and provide them with a sound basis for their futures.”
Dr Okonjo-Iweala has twice served as Finance Minister in Nigeria, most recently between 2011 and 2015 with the expanded portfolio of the Coordinating Minister for the Economy. She has also held several key positions at the World Bank, most recently as Managing Director.
Dr Okonjo-Iweala currently serves on the board of the Rockefeller Foundation and ONE, among others. She is chair of African Risk Capacity, and the recipient of numerous honors including honorary doctorate degrees from Yale, University of Pennsylvania and Brown. She was named by Fortune magazine as one of the 50 greatest world leaders 2015, and by Forbes for five consecutive years as one of the 100 most powerful women in the world. In 2014, Dr Okonjo-Iweala was recognised by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Dr Okonjo-Iweala was chosen through a Board-managed competitive international search process.
In taking up the position of Board Chair, Dr Okonjo-Iweala will succeed Dagfinn Høybråten, a former Norwegian Minister of Health and current Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers.
“I am proud to have played my part in the unprecedented increase in the number of children in developing countries who have access to vaccines, “said Mr Høybråten. “Gavi’s success in improving health and reducing illness and death lies in our ability to work collaboratively on complex immunisation challenges. I wish Dr Okonjo-Iweala every success and I look forward to the next exciting chapter in the Gavi story.”