Happy International Women’s Day! Here at the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life campaign, we celebrate the progress made towards achieving gender equality and the impact women have made throughout history in global health. Women have always played an important role in the field of global health, as scientists and health workers, as community leaders, and as primary child caregivers in their families. This is especially true when it comes to the vaccination of children.
Dr. Isabel Morgan’s work led directly to the development of the oral polio vaccine, a primary tool used around the world to eradicate polio, by Dr. Jonas Salk. Dr. Ruth Bishop discovered rotavirus, allowing for the development of a vaccine that prevents severe diarrheal disease and saves the lives of thousands of children each year.
On the ground in countries like India, female health workers ensure that all children in their area have access to lifesaving vaccines and basic healthcare. While frontline health workers such as Purnima Marthuria (pictured above) will never gain global notoriety, they play a role as vital as the global health scientists when it comes to vaccinating children against deadly infectious diseases like polio and measles.
Though great strides have been made in global immunization thanks to the contribution of these women and others, gender inequities still exist and hamper our ability to give all the world’s children access to vaccines. Dr. Orin Levine, director of vaccine delivery at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, recently explored how increasing the education and empowerment of women leads to higher vaccination rates in developing countries.
This International Women’s Day, we celebrate the contributions and accomplishments of women in global health. We remain fully aware, however, of the need to continue our efforts to reach every child, educate every mother, and help rid the world of vaccine-preventable diseases.