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Vaccines: The first step to Global Health


After first watching this short clip by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, it is easy to think that we found the answer for saving a large portion of the 8.1 million children under 5 who die every year from preventable and treatable diseases.

The video explains that by scaling up vaccines over the next 10 years in the 5 countries where most children die (Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, and Nigeria), we would save 3 million children and nearly USD$3 billion in treatment costs. Based on this information, they contend that, “vaccines are the best investment in global health.”

I'd absolutely agree - and add that we have to ensure that they're not the only investment we make. Vaccines are the best short-term solution for global health issues, but vaccines alone cannot be our only long-term solution. Taking two diseases as examples - measles and rotavirus - here's why...

Let’s take the first example of measles. Although it is treatable, every child needs to be vaccinated against measles due to its highly contagious and potentially deadly nature. In the US, we have to receive the vaccination before we’ll even be admitted to school. So it is imperative that children in developing countries get this same access to the vaccination, so they are equally protected from this rampant disease.

However, severe measles, which is what can be deadly, is more likely among poorly nourished young children, particularly those with insufficient Vitamin A or weakened immune systems from other diseases. This means that more than 95% of the 164,000+ people who die from measles each year are children living in poverty in developing countries (WHO).

So as you can see, it’s not just lack of the measles vaccination that is threatening the lives of these children. We need to tackle the issues of hunger and access to Vitamin A in developing countries so that these children’s immune systems are strong enough to fight off the disease if they haven’t been immunised. As we’ve mentioned previously, we also need to address the issue of inadequate health services and infrastructures, which is currently keeping 1 billion people from ever seeing a doctor in their entire lives, making them more likely to become infected with preventable and treatable diseases that further weaken their immune systems.

So although vaccines are important and necessary on a short-term basis to protect children from measles, long-term investments in fighting hunger and improving health services are also necessary to help us get to the root of the problem.

Another example of this situation is rotavirus, which along with E. coli is the most common cause of diarrhoea. Diarrhoeal disease is the 2nd leading cause of death in children under 5, taking the lives of over 1.5 million children every year. Although vaccinating against rotavirus will undeniably save the lives of millions of children, it is not the only answer to stop infection of this completely preventable and treatable disease.

Diarrhoea is a symptom of infections caused by faeces-contaminated water. Human faeces from sewage, septic tanks and latrines can contaminate water sources that are used for drinking, cooking and cleaning and easily spread disease.

Sounds pretty gross, doesn’t it? Not as gross as the fact that we allow 2.6 billion people in the world to go without access to adequate sanitation, which is the reason why this water is getting contaminated (WaterAid). We need to address the issue of access to safe and clean drinking water and adequate sanitation as well to get at the root of the rotavirus problem, so that we can tackle the disease on a long-term basis.

Then what should we do?
We need to start by supporting organisations like GAVI to increase the number of vaccinations distributed across developing countries. Their work has saved over 5.4 million lives in some of the poorest countries in the world through increased vaccinations.

But we need to do that while also addressing the root causes of these issues, which stem from the aspects of living in poverty. We need to fight hunger (Action Against Hunger), improve access to health services (Oxfam), and ensure that everyone has clean water and decent toilets (WaterAid).

Vaccines work, and they work even better when complemented by fighting the causes of poverty across the whole community.


01/03/11 11:44pm - Posted By Tamar - Reply to this comment
Sometimes it seems too much... any effort I made would be a drop in the ocean. But every time I click on the GPP site I note that the Commitment Ticker has gone up again. And my drop in the ocean is significant to someone...
05/03/11 5:59am - Posted By Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay - Reply to this comment
Most of the communities in India (such as Bengali), are succumbed in 'Culture of Poverty'(a theory introduced by an American anthropologist Oscar Lewis), irrespective of class or economic strata, lives in pavement or apartment. Nobody is at all ashamed of the deep-rooted corruption, decaying general quality of life, worst Politico-administrative system, weak mother language, continuous absorption of common space (mental as well as physical, both). We are becoming fathers & mothers only by self-procreation, mindlessly & blindfold. Simply depriving their(the children) fundamental rights of a decent, caring society, fearless & dignified living. Do not ever look for any other positive alternative behaviour (values) to perform human way of parenthood, i.e. deliberately co-parenting of those children those are born out of ignorance, real poverty. All of us are being driven only by the very animal instinct. If the Bengali people ever be able to bring that genuine freedom (from vicious cycle of 'poverty') in their own life/attitude, involve themselves in 'Production of Space?(Henri Lefebvre), at least initiate a movement by heart, decent & dedicated Politics will definitely come up.
- Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay, 16/4, Girish Banerjee Lane, Howrah-711101, India.

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