We have to extend the vaccine revolution to every child in every corner of our world
For too long, there has been an unwritten rule that it can take 15 years or more before children in the poorest nations benefit from new life-saving vaccines in use in rich countries. It’s a tragic time-lag that has cost many millions of lives.
But national celebrations in Ghana this week show how this shameful gap is rapidly being closed.
Ghana, in fact, already has an impressive immunization programme with vaccination rates higher than some richer countries. But it is determined to go further.
This week the rotavirus vaccine to protect against severe diarrhea and the pneumococcal vaccine which targets the primary cause of pneumonia – the two biggest killers of children – are being introduced. It is an historic milestone. No other African country has rolled out these vaccines simultaneously. But what is also remarkable is the speed with which these vaccines are being introduced.
The 13 strain pneumococcal vaccine, for example, was first used in Europe only a couple of years ago. Even better, it is already protecting children in 14 other developing countries. This is hugely important. The power of vaccines is vital in every society, rich or poor. But their impact is even greater in developing countries because of the quality of basic health services.
Yet until recently, the countries which most needed these life-saving vaccines were all too often the least able to offer them. The result was not just millions of unnecessary deaths but a major brake on economic and social development.
But this position is being transformed as children will now be provided with the miracle of vaccines wherever they live. And it is working. Huge strides have been made in lowering vaccine prices. New vaccine producers in developing countries have emerged. Donor countries have stepped up their support.
Developing countries have made vaccination a major health priority, putting in place the systems to deliver immunization programmes and helping fund the cost of vaccines through their own resources.
The result is that some 325 million additional children have been vaccinated against a wide variety of diseases since 2000, helping prevent five million early deaths.
The impact goes far beyond the immediate benefits to children and their families. Healthier children can attend school, learn more effectively and lead more productive lives. And vaccines also provide tremendous value for money. They are easy to administer and, in most cases, offer permanent immunity. The new pentavalent vaccine protects a child for life against five major deadly diseases for around the price of a cinema ticket.
But there is much more to do. I have worked in the field of vaccinations and disease prevention now for over three decades. I don’t think there has ever been a time when vaccines present greater opportunities.
We can now protect against the main causes of cervical and liver cancer. We could be close to effective vaccines to combat malaria and, eventually, HIV/Aids.
This week’s celebrations in Ghana show just what can be achieved.
But we can’t rest while 1.7 million children – one every 20 seconds – are still dying every year from diseases which we can prevent.Tagged in: Africa, diarrhea, Ghana, health, pneumococcal vaccine, pneumonia, rotavirus vaccine, vaccines
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter