Tuesday, May 22, 2012
SAVING LIVES OF CHILDREN BY SUPPORTING VACCINES
World’s health issues are ours By Andrew Young Most Americans today don’t have first-hand experience with diseases such as polio and measles because of the success of our country’s immunization programs. But growing up in Georgia, I visited Warm Springs, where President Franklin D. Roosevelt and other polio-stricken Americans went for treatment. I saw young Americans become severely disabled by the polio virus — it was devastating. Few people remember the days when hundreds of Americans were placed on iron lungs, their heads the only body parts visible in the airtight steel chambers that helped them breathe. This is a visual I will never forget. Today parents around the world still have to worry about protecting their children from polio, measles and other diseases, often because they don’t have the resources for life-saving vaccinations. But it’s not just their worry. When people hear the term “global health,” most think of problems specific to the developing world. But global health matters to everyone. Infectious diseases don’t need passports to cross borders. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States saw 222 measles cases last year, the highest number reported here in 15 years, despite a global drop of measles deaths by about 74 percent over the last 10 years. Most of the new cases were the result of imported virus, either by U.S. citizens returning from vacations or by foreign visitors. The news is of particular concern to global hubs with large international airports, such as Atlanta. As a former ambassador to the United Nations, I know that working with the U.N. is one of the best ways to address global challenges and create a healthier world. More than 10 years ago, I joined the United Nations Foundation’s board of directors. Since then, I have witnessed many great success stories. Two years ago, I joined U.N. Foundation Chairman Ted Turner on a visit to northern Nigeria, where we saw political and religious leaders come together to immunize their children against polio. Nigeria has made enormous progress against polio — the infection rate has been reduced by 98 percent. And just last month, the World Health Organization announced that India reached a historic milestone with zero new cases of polio last year. The success in Nigeria and India are proof that vaccines work. Worldwide, a child dies every 20 seconds of a disease that could have been prevented by a vaccine. That’s 1.5 million children each year. It costs only $1 to immunize a child against measles. Twenty dollars will protect a child against several vaccine-preventable diseases. To a mom or dad in Nigeria or India, having access to that vaccine for their child can be the difference between losing their child or celebrating their milestones. There is much more to do, and much more money to raise, before vaccine-preventable diseases are finally stopped. The U.N., with the support of American citizens, has the reach and capacity to take a leadership role in the effort to improve global health, and to have a positive impact on the lives of children worldwide. Andrew Young, former Atlanta mayor and ambassador to the United Nations, is a United Nations Foundation board member.