Vaccines are one of the most impactful public health interventions of the 21st century.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), vaccines save three million lives each year. World Immunization Week (WIW) happening April 21-28, is a time to acknowledge this achievement – and there are many good news stories to share.
In Canada, vaccines have been so successful that diseases like polio, diphtheria, mumps and measles are rarely ever seen. In fact, less than 5% of childhood deaths in Canada are attributed to vaccine preventable diseases.
Across the Atlantic in Ghana, pneumonia and diarrheal diseases each account for approximately 10% of under-five deaths in the country – the two biggest killers of Ghanaian children. Introducing vaccines to combat these two diseases will ensure that no child will suffer from diseases we have the power to protect them from. With support from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI Alliance), health care workers are gearing-up to introduce both pneumococcal and rotavirus, in an unprecedented double roll-out of these revolutionary vaccines.
WIW it is also an opportunity to reflect on the challenges ahead. In 2010, approximately 19.3 million children did not receive even the most basic vaccines (e.g., diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis). Nearly 70% of these children live in just ten countries, in some of the most remote regions of the world. Every year three million of the most vulnerable children die needlessly due to vaccine preventable diseases.
Canada has shown tremendous leadership in the area of maternal health and child survival. In 2010, Prime Minister Stephen Harper paved the way for an incredible $7.3 billion total investment to the Muskoka Initiative by G8 countries and has made good on Canada’s $1.1 billion promise.
We have seen the incredible impact of investments in child health. Over the last 50 years, child mortality has dropped by 70 percent world-wide. In the past two decades alone, child deaths have plummeted from 12 million in 1990 to 7.6 million in 2010. This rapid progress is largely due to high-impact, cost-effective interventions like vaccines. Canada’s contributions to these gains in child survival are definitely worth celebrating.
However, recent cuts to the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) in the 2012 Federal Budget are a cause for serious concern. Canadian-funded basic immunizations programs, such as the Canadian International Immunization Initiative (CIII), will be clawed back or left to expire, jeopardizing important gains in child survival, and undermining our investments in GAVI as well.
Canada has an opportunity to recommit to critical child survival interventions by protecting and renewing investments in life-saving programs such as CIII. On World Immunizations Week Canada should demonstrate to the world that it is still a country that cares about the protection of the world’s most vulnerable children.
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