Today marks the beginning of World Immunization Week and tomorrow is World Malaria Day. If you are like me, you likely notice that there is a day for almost everything and that nearly everything has a day. Between now and the end of April there is also ‘Hug a Plumber Day,’ ‘National Blueberry Pie Day,’ ‘Hairball-Awareness Day,’ ‘National Zipper Day,’ and 37 others. I don’t want to discount the importance of shrimp scampi (April 29), but there are certain days that are needed as a continuous reminder that progress is possible; that solutions to some of our biggest problems do exist; and that work does need to continue until those solutions work for everyone.
Sharing a photo or clicking like may raise awareness among your social circle, but to make these days matter, you will have to go one step further. Why? Because each and every day 16,000 children under 5 die from preventable causes like malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea, and measles. Each and every day 70 percent of malaria deaths occur in children under age 5. Each and every day pneumonia kills more children than any other kind of infection – and it’s preventable through a simple vaccine.
So What Can You Do?
You can take action! There is currently a bipartisan letter in Congress led by Senator Susan Collins of Maine and Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. The letter asks for strong funding for U.S. foreign assistance accounts that help improve the lives of mothers and babies, including vaccines, nutrition, and global health programs. You can ask your Senators to add their names to the letter and show their support. These programs are just a small proportion of the U.S. foreign assistance budget. Time is short: the deadline for Senators to add their names is May 12, and then the letter will be sent to the appropriations committee.
By contacting your Senators about this letter you stand up for:
- U.S. foreign assistance that partners with organizations like World Vision who empower mothers and children everywhere.
- Bipartisan cooperation in the Senate.
- Those living in extreme poverty simply because of where they were born.
Best Shot at Life
Cassie Paulsen, an advocacy associate, has seen programs that save mothers and children personally. She recently returned from Senegal and shares why she feels preserving these programs is so important.
Last month, I visited a “Health Hut” in Senegal. Health Huts are government-run health facilities located in some of the most remote regions of the country, closest to where most people live. They exist to provide basic health services such as maternal and child health interventions, including immunizations. That morning, dust blew in our eyes from strong winds, and the temperature hit a scorching 105 degrees Fahrenheit, but the weather did nothing to stop mothers from traveling from nearby villages to bring their children for immunizations, weight monitoring, and a nutritional porridge. Before this hut existed, low immunization rates and child malnutrition were big problems for the community. But today the chief nurse reported to us that 90 percent of the children aged 0-11 months in the community have completed full immunization!
I was struck by the normalcy of the immunization process — just as I watched my mother hold my youngest sister during her newborn shots, this mother calmed her daughter and held her close as the chief nurse prepared the syringe. Two shots and one oral vaccination were done in no time (although predictably, the baby cried in protest).
The U.S. Government invests in immunizations through a public-private partnership – Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Governments, corporations, foundations, and private individuals contribute to Gavi’s mission of increasing access to new and underused vaccines in lower-income countries. Gavi also actively supports countries’ own investment in their immunizations programs, ensuring a sustainable transfer of ownership and financing from donor partners to the national government. Due to successful programs, nine countries have already transitioned out of Gavi support and thirteen others are preparing to transition by 2020!
As we left, I realized the full impact of that short visit. Protected against the diseases that had the potential to take her life, she is now free to enter the world as a happy, healthy, and growing child. Between 2010 and 2015, child mortality in Gavi-supported countries fell at an unprecedented rate each year. In that same time period, Gavi supported immunizations for over 277 million children. The U.S. contribution to Gavi is vital to a full, healthy life for children around the world.
President George W. Bush launched the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative in 2005, and the initiative was expanded under President Barack Obama. These critical investments have cut in half the number of children who die from Malaria in just ten years.
In pregnant mothers, Malaria is responsible for one-third of low-birth weight babies, contributing to miscarriage and premature labor. Malaria not only takes lives, it increases economic burden. Often the poorest families cannot afford treatment – robbing families of income as many days of work and income are lost. Children miss days of school and fall behind; resources are stretched thin. We must empower families to take the offensive against this killer disease.
This year’s theme for World Malaria Day is “End Malaria for Good.” Malaria is preventable with insecticide treated nets, indoor insecticide spraying, and by controlling environments (such as eliminating standing water). You can play a role by encouraging continued support of programs such as the President’s Malaria Initiative.
So Like and Share, but Go One Step Further…
Like and share to raise awareness, but don’t let your actions stop there – those are only the first steps. If you really want to see an end to these health threats, you must act for the sake of results. Contact your Senators, and ask them to take action. World Vaccination Week and World Malaria Day are about meaningful issues, so make them mean something!
Photo: A scene from a Health Outreach clinic in Hoima, Uganda, where World Vision is increasing its health work to cover the entire district. © 2016 World Vision/ photo by Jon Warren