Michael Gerson

The result? By the end of 2008, 192 million children had received vaccinations against hepatitis B, and 41.8 million were protected against Hib (a type of bacteria that causes meningitis). During its first decade, GAVI-funded vaccines for these diseases -- along with pertussis, measles, yellow fever and polio -- prevented more than 5 million premature deaths.

When it comes to human lives, the word "million" should not be passed over without comment. It was the unit of measure for 20th-century genocides. So it is remarkable that a poorly named international organization, almost unknown to Americans, with no apparent instinct for self-promotion, should count 5 million success stories. It is a demonstration, for anyone who doubted it, that foreign assistance can be effectively redesigned and focused on achievable outcomes. It is also living proof that science, guided by conscience, is one of the most powerful, hopeful forces of history.

This demonstration that the rapid expansion of vaccination is possible in the developing world creates an ethical challenge of its own. A vaccine for malaria is a few years away. Vaccines for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and dengue fever are probably more distant. But two vaccines -- for rotavirus and pneumococcus -- are currently available. These diseases, causing diarrhea and pneumonia, are the leading causes of death for young children in poor countries. But just a few early treatments would bring a lifetime of immunity. The Gates Foundation estimates that large-scale vaccination, in these cases, could prevent the deaths of 7.6 million children under 5 in the next decade. Again, note the "millions."

Many global problems are desperate but seem beyond our ability to comprehend or resolve. Sufficient support for GAVI from governments, foundations and individuals would solve much of this problem. The answer for millions of dying children does not need to be invented, studied or tested. All this has already been done. Their hope lies within a locked room. And those with keys gain responsibilities.

Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
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