Ray Cummings, director of PATH — a nonprofit organization that aims to improve public health through vaccines — discussed the influence of vaccines in low-income countries and other areas and the economic costs tied to immunization at a talk Wednesday.
Cummings spoke to an audience of approximately 80 students, faculty and community members at the Ross School of Business. The event was one of several in the annual William David Institute Global Impact Speaker Series.
Cummings’ nonprofit strives to improve global public health through five main platforms: vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, devices and system and service innovations. In 2014, PATH served 160 million individuals in more than 70 countries, working alongside UNICEF, the World Health Organization and other non-governmental organizations such as Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
PATH is currently working to combat the spread of rotavirus, Japanese encephalitis and pneumococcal pneumonia. The nonprofit hopes to further progress in terms of vaccine waste reduction, supply chain management and data management of immunization information.
“PATH is not in a position to help countries make budget choices. That is a process each country needs to go through on its own,” Cummings said. “We can help them get more for their money through the immunization process.”
Cummings explained the economic value of investing in immunizations, saying there is generally a positive return on such an investment.
“Economists at PATH and a number of groups have looked at the cost effectiveness of these vaccines,” Cummings said. “The metric that is most commonly used is disability-adjusted life year. That is the measurement for the average amount of healthy years of life that are spared by a particular intervention.”
Cummings noted that distribution systems differ for lower income countries, Gavi is involved in providing the funding for vaccination, while UNICEF is focused on the distribution and procurement of vaccines.
After the event, Peiyu Yu, Public Policy senior, agreed that there is a significant economic benefit to vaccination, but raised concerns over how vaccines are implemented and received in foreign countries.
“I do not know what countries with a large aging population will do and if they are ready to cover term health costs,” Yu said. “The resistance of intervention is that some countries have a history of not welcoming Western intervention because of deep skepticism.”
Cummings also discussed the organization's challenges, citing the expensive cost of new vaccines as well as the problem which arises as countries transition out of Gavi eligibility and become responsible for the cost of immunization.
With the rising costs of new and expensive vaccines, PATH is struggling to pay for the more costly medication, he said.
Furthermore, as countries gain wealth, they no longer meet the threshold to attain vaccinations through Gavi and must pay for vaccines themselves. The World Bank defines low-income countries as those which have a gross national income per capita of less than $1,045. To be eligible for aid from Gavi, the country has to have a GNI per capita of below $1,580.
Ari Shwayder, lecturer of business economics, said the challenge for transitional nations was significant.
“For me, the idea is that we have to think about new ways for getting the middle-income countries vaccines,” Shwayder said. “We need to work with manufactures to develop cheaper vaccines, to focus on the supply side.”
The World Health Organization estimates that 2.5 million deaths are prevented per year due to vaccines. Cummings said amid some resistance and controversy surrounding vaccines, their importance remains clear.
“I hope I have given you some appreciation for what impact vaccines have had in public health and in what terms vaccines have had in saving lives, and in doing so economically,” Cummings told the crowd.