With initial funding provided by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Foundation conducted a children’s vaccination initiative against hepatitis B in the Russian Federation from 2000 -2006. At the time the program t was the largest public health program for children in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since 2006 this hepatitis B vaccination initiative has been financed and managed entirely by the Russian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare.
In 1999 the Russian Ministry of Health (MOH) began vaccinating newborns against hepatitis B but lacked funding to vaccinate adolescents and health care workers at risk of contracting the disease. In early 2000 the Russian health authorities turned to the Foundation for help in addressing this serious threat to public health. From its inception in 2000 as a regional program in central Russia, the Foundation vaccination initiative grew over the next six years to include 22 regions stretching from European Russia across Siberia to the Russian Far East. Other donors joined USDA in financing the effort, including the energy giant BP, the Norwegian Government, and the United Stated Agency for International Development (USAID).
From the beginning the enduring strategic goal of the Foundation vaccination initiative was to reduce the number of unvaccinated children in each region to a level that could be managed and financed with local and national resources within three years. This required close collaboration between the Foundation and national and local health authorities. Each regional vaccination program was designed jointly by local epidemiologists and the Foundation staff with the aim of strengthening the existing health care infrastructure and avoiding the creation of parallel structures. Staff training and public awareness campaigns were undertaken. Locally manufactured refrigerators and thermal containers for the safe storage of vaccines were distributed to facilities with outdated equipment. Close monitoring of record keeping and timely vaccine distribution was carried out jointly by the Foundation and by local health officials. Wherever possible, adolescents were vaccinated in their schools, which typically results in average coverage rates in excess of 95%. As a point of comparison, Western immunization programs are considered successful if they achieve a coverage rate of 90%.
In May 2006 the Foundation completed its nationwide vaccination program in the Russian Federation against hepatitis B for adolescents, institutionalized orphans and at risk health workers. Over 1.8 million children and nearly 100,000 at-risk health care workers were vaccinated in an initiative that encompassed 22 regions from Kaliningrad bordering Poland in the farthest western corner of the country to Primorsky along the Pacific Ocean in the Russian Far East. Now the Russian Ministry of Health and Social Development is financing this important work with its own resources.
The announcement by the Russian MOH in 2006 that it would assume full financial responsibility for vaccinating all 13-year-olds throughout Russia against hepatitis B was a clear affirmation of the Foundation’s vaccination initiative as a model of a sustainable public health program.