The diaspora: An agent of change carving out a special place for global vaccines in Africa
March 7, 2012 BY Asmara Sium
As a woman, mother and a diaspora African, my identity has defined my interests and inspired much of my personal and professional experiences. I care deeply about the maternal health, well-being and rights of women. In many parts of the world, the maternal health outcomes of women are often negatively affected by a lack of awareness of women’s needs, cultural attitudes, a lack of empowerment of women and inadequate funding of healthcare systems. It is unfortunate that as women, we continue to face these barriers. This is especially troubling should one consider that a healthy woman means a healthy child.
As a mother, I have sought to develop healthy and well-rounded children. I have had the privilege of witnessing my child’s first smile, first step and first tooth. It is these milestones that have added texture and meaning through the many months and years of our lives together as mother and child. I cannot imagine what it feels like to miss out on these precious moments. However, the unfortunate reality is that many mothers have missed the opportunity of witnessing any of their child’s firsts. It is, in part, this reality that has informed my identity as a diaspora African.
As a member of the diaspora, I care about and act on matters affecting Africa, especially diaspora-driven efforts with respect to maternal and child health. The healthcare sector in Africa has experienced considerable strain, albeit with modest gains through the years. Challenges remain in prevention and treatment, particularly for children’s health and access to vaccines.
Against this background, however, many diaspora efforts have gone a long way toward improving the health experiences and outcomes of Africans. The most notable example is the African Diaspora Health Initiative, developed by the African Union to link health experts within the Diaspora with the health needs in Africa. As an agent of change and stakeholder in the development of Africa, I applaud such efforts, and I hope to carve out a special place in the movement for the subject of global vaccine health for children.
Vaccines have played an important role in eradicating and treating illnesses. They are classified as one of the most cost-effective, high-impact and most equitable of health prevention programs, protecting entire populations. Thanks to global and national vaccination efforts, vaccine-preventable illnesses once endemic to Sub-Saharan Africa have decreased substantially. For example, the most recent introduction of a meningococcal vaccine in West Africa has experienced success with some experts believing that it could save 150,000 lives by 2015. We are seeing similar trends in the numbers of polio and measles cases. As a result, we are on track to eliminating these illnesses altogether. Through sustained programs with high rates of implementation and successful funding strategies, we anticipate greater success.
Despite this progress millions of children are disabled or killed every decade by preventable diseases like pneumonia, diarrhea, measles and polio. Of these cases, 75 percent occur in just 10 countries, 6 of which are in Central, West and East Africa. A combination of factors contribute to this: civil unrest, famine, lack of political will, fears regarding vaccine safety, poor water supply and sanitation and weak implementation of immunization programs.
Unfortunately it is women and children who bear the greatest burden of this reality. And for the millions of children not immunized and therefore exposed to premature death or disability due to a preventable illness, the picture is grim. By expanding access to vaccines we can save the lives of children and avert countless incidences of illness and deaths annually.
There are many African diaspora health experts for whom the importance of vaccinations is understood. There are many more Africans who have witnessed firsthand the impact of a declining healthcare system on Africa, especially for children. As a diaspora African, woman and mother, familiar with the troubling statistics on neonatal death rates in Africa, due to preventable illnesses, I felt compelled and honored to lend my voice and support to protecting children in Africa by providing life saving vaccines.
Join me in giving children a shot at life. To learn more about how you can support, donate or share, please visit www.shotatlife.org.
Each day for a week leading up to International Women’s Day, March 8, Shot@Life will be featuring a “remarkable woman” working to reduce childhood mortality in under-resourced communities in developing countries and/or the U.S. Want to get involved? Visit us on Facebook between now and March 8 to tell us about a remarkable woman who has inspired you.
Continue reading about women who inspire Shot@Life:
- Remarkable. Dedicated. Strong. Global. Women, By Peg Willingham
- The Power of Women and Vaccines in Honduras, By Dr. Gina Watson
- Eradicating Polio in India: Is the battle over, or just beginning?, By Dr. Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe
- Healthy Children Start with Us, By Tonya Lewis Lee
- We’re So Lucky to Forget: The Power of Vaccines, By Jennifer Chow
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