Throughout the World Health Assembly, there was a consistent message heard: that in today’s interconnected world, diseases know no borders – a threat to children anywhere is a threat to children everywhere. Karen Kwok, a longtime Shot@Life advocate and supporter, as well as a Family Nurse Practitioner, gives us a firsthand account from Zambia.
Due to the political instability in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, a transnational epidemic crisis arises when Angolan and Congolese refugees in neighboring Zambia have only partial diphtheria tetanus pertussis (DTP) vaccine coverage. With failure to receive the third DTP dose, children are still vulnerable to DTP with exposure risk for children in all three countries. This threat to global health security leads to greater demand for priority health investments, including childhood immunization.
The World Health Organization’s 2011-2020 Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP) outlines goals for a healthier world based on these preventative health measures. Multilateral agencies serve a crucial role in supplementing resources to ensure Zambia’s adequate supply of life-saving vaccines. Organizations like the United Nations Foundation secure available resources for these efforts. Universal access to immunization throughout a person’s lifespan can improve patient health outcomes and provide broader health benefits to communities.
Routine immunization helps preserve the quality of life, as evident with individuals afflicted by vaccine-preventable diseases. Disease and disabling conditions prevented by vaccines include blindness caused by measles, paralysis due to polio, and respiratory failure from tetanus. The disproportionate burden of vaccine-preventable diseases further exacerbates health inequities in Sub-Sahara African nations. A collaborative health agenda is needed to destigmatize health disparities for families and children with disabilities. As UNICEF points out, the misconception of vaccines causing disabilities and barriers to accessible health services for children and adolescents with disabilities afflict an already vulnerable population.
These avoidable complications associated with vaccine-preventable diseases require targeted outreach to identified high-risk groups (i.e., pregnant women, pre/school-age children, immunocompromised individuals). Efforts to reach these groups must address contributing factors to health disparities due to social exclusion, poorer households, and dispersed rural locations. To help address these disparities, Zambia is leading sustained efforts in community mobilization through initiatives such as Saving Mothers Action Groups and Reach Every Child, national campaigns that promote the continuum of healthcare using antenatal testing and vaccination of high-risk infants to reduce viral hepatitis. Zambia’s elimination of maternal and neonatal tetanus is one example of how the world is advancing towards the 2020 goal for reduced mortality from vaccine-preventable diseases.
As the world’s most cost-effective health intervention, successful vaccination campaigns utilize the building blocks of patient education, health promotion, and disease prevention to advance universal health coverage and sustainable development. Future partnerships that would supplement comprehensive multi-pronged efforts to reduce vaccine-preventable diseases include sponsorship of pediatric training of community health workers, operational support for vaccination campaigns, and investment in next generation development of new vaccines and technologies.
Brenzel, L. Wolfson, L.J, Fox-Rushby, J. et al. (2006). Vaccine-preventable diseases. In Disease control priorities in developing countries (Chapter 20). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK11768.
Mayo Clinic. Polio. Retrieved April 27 from www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/polio
Mayo Clinic. Tetanus. Retrieved April 27 from www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tetanus
UNICEF. Disability prevention efforts and disability rights: Finding common ground on immunization efforts. Retrieved from http://www.unicef.org.
World Health Organization. (2016). Global Vaccine Action Plan 2011-2020. Retrieved from www.who.int/features/immunization/en