Ghana takes on new vaccines
“My mission in life is saving children.” When working as a medical doctor in her home country of Ghana, Dr. Mercy Ahun saw firsthand the importance of basic health interventions and she is clear about her mission – saving the lives of kids.
I had the pleasure of meeting Mercy when she was in Washington, DC a few weeks ago visiting the GAVI Alliance office. Mercy’s mission and background in immunization programs has brought her to serve as the Special Representative to GAVI Eligible countries (there are now over 70 countries eligible for GAVI funding). The GAVI Alliance is a partnership of donor governments, developing country governments, private sector, foundations, and civil society that focuses on getting new and under-used vaccines at a low-cost to poor countries. Their goal is to ensure that where you are born is not a barrier to receiving life-saving vaccinations.
When asked why she works on these issues, Mercy told a story about traveling to a very rural village in Ghana as part of a polio immunization team early in her career. While in a remote area giving out the routine polio drops to children, Mercy saw a small child – maybe only 18 months old – lying on a grass mat to the side suffering from fast and shallow breaths. From an initial sight exam, Mercy knew the child was suffering from pneumonia. She said, “This child needs more than just a polio vaccine.” When asking the parents why they didn’t take the child to the nearest clinic, Mercy knew the distance itself was too far and the child was so sick she wouldn’t survive the trip. Basic drugs, like antibiotics could have made the difference. If the pneumococcal vaccine had been available then, it could have made a difference. That day left a real impact on Mercy and though she doesn’t know what happened to that little girl, that memory serves as her motivation for working at GAVI.
One of the new vaccines that GAVI supports developing countries to introduce is the pneumococcal vaccine to protect against pneumonia, the leading killer of children under the age of 5. If fully funded, GAVI estimates that the pneumococcal vaccine will be rolled out in 40 countries by the year 2015 and by the year 2030 it will save 7 million lives.
This is why in 2011 RESULTS activists worked to secure a US government pledge of $450 million dollars over 3 years to support GAVI’s great work. The US pledge will also support the roll out of the rotavirus vaccine, which helps prevent severe diarrhea, the second biggest killer of children. RESULTS continues to advocate for Congress to fulfill that pledge by pushing for $145 million from the US through the FY 2013 appropriations process.
Mercy is especially excited that this week, which is World Immunization Week, Ghana will do what no other country has done, it will roll out two new vaccines simultaneously – both the pneumococcal and the rotavirus vaccine. This is a huge undertaking for Ghana. But, much is at stake in the country as they are currently not on track to reach the Millennium Development Goal of reducing the under-5 child mortality rate. The energy is growing in the country and many people are waiting to see if it can it be done.
Mercy believes it can be done and I believe Mercy.
As Ghana officially launches their new vaccine campaign on April 26, here’s a great video by GAVI to leave you with that talks about all the preparations that have taken place to make this day happen: