April 26, 2017

A Chance at a Better Life, Thanks to Vaccines

By Megan Guilfoyle

An astronaut, a soccer star, a doctor, a fire fighter— these are just some of the occupations kids imagine for themselves. But for 19.4 million children around the world, these dreams are threatened each day by their lack of access to lifesaving vaccines.

With global vaccination rates at an all-time high and life threatening diseases like polio close to eradication, it is hard to believe that 1.5 million children still lose their lives each year to vaccine-preventable diseases.

Pneumonia and diarrhea, leading causes of death in children around the world, together take the lives of nearly one million children each year. Over one-fifth of all deaths in children under five are the result of these vaccine-preventable diseases.

But there’s good news. Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, with support from the U.S. government and other partners, has been working to increase childhood immunization rates for the pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines in over 40 of world’s poorest countries— renewing hope that many more children around the world will thrive far beyond their fifth birthday.

The burden of rotavirus— the most common cause of diarrheal disease— falls heavily on Pakistan. In the country’s Punjab province, more than 20,000 children die from diarrhea each year. But with support from Gavi, UNICEF, WHO, and others, Pakistan launched its first-ever rotavirus vaccination campaign this past January in Punjab. The first immunization was administered to a four-month-old baby girl named Fizza, marking an important step in Pakistan’s journey to improve the health of its children.

But the rotavirus launch is not the first step Punjab has made towards vaccinating Pakistan’s children. In 2014, the province launched a smartphone app known as “E-vacc.” The technology is used to map rural areas, track vaccinator activities, and move information back into vaccine programs. With the increased monitoring, Punjab saw basic vaccination coverage increase from 64 percent to 84 percent in just a year.

Thanks to Gavi and its partners, children around the world are reaping the benefits of vaccines. 46 million more children have now been immunized against rotavirus, and 76 million more children have been vaccinated for pneumococcal disease. Since 2000, Gavi has worked to immunize well over half a billion children and avert more than 8 million deaths globally.

Immunization efforts like these impact entire communities— and the world at large. Healthy children serve as a catalyst for workforce productivity, allowing for countries like the U.S. to expand their goods and services to emerging markets overseas. For every dollar spent on immunizations, there is a $48 return on investment— saving both lives and money. With such high dividends, it is in our economic and moral interest to prioritize global vaccination programs.

To mark World Immunization Week, we celebrate the extraordinary progress that has already been made in global immunization coverage— while recognizing that there is still more work to be done. With the help of organizations like Gavi, its implementing partners, and the U.S. government, children around the world who dream of becoming astronauts, soccer stars, doctors, and fire fighters will one day have a better shot.