The following is a guest blog from GAVI Alliance Board Chair Dagfinn Høybråten, as part of global immunisation week.
I had the chance to help protect a life today, the life of a little girl named Madeleine Isaac.
My part was brief and ceremonial, squeezing out two drops of polio vaccine. Madeleine made a funny face and then sat up from her mother’s lap and smiled.
The part played by Madeleine’s mother was immeasurable. Those two drops of vaccine will protect her little girl for life and help ensure that their nation – Haiti – remains polio-free.
The mother’s effort to bring Madeleine to the Palais Municipal de Delmas to be vaccinated, amid the cacophony of traffic and people in the heat of Port-au-Prince, was remarkable. It was, as our partner PAHO describes for its broader immunisation campaign, “an act of love for you, me and everyone.”
That also is why the ceremony itself also was important. It marked the launch of World Immunization Week (WIW) and the tenth anniversary of Vaccination Week in the Americas. WIW builds on nine years of ever-growing Vaccination Week regional campaigns that have led to the vaccination of more than 365 million people.
This has been led by the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), and strongly supported by other key GAVI partners, such as UNICEF. This year, more than 180 countries are participating in WIW, including 45 countries and territories in the Americas, where 44 million people are expected to be immunised.
I was in Haiti to represent GAVI’s participation in WIW, which began on Saturday with the intensification of a vaccination campaign against measles, rubella and polio by Haiti’s Ministry of Health.
That is how I came to cross paths with Madeleine, whose mother had brought her to the ceremonial kickoff because it included a free immunisation clinic. It provided a tangible symbol of Haiti’s remarkable leap in public health just two years after its devastating earthquake.
And Haiti is going further. In late spring, it also will roll out pentavalent vaccine in partnership with GAVI to help protect its children from five other deadly diseases.
As a former minister of health for Norway, I salute Haiti’s leaders for making child health a top-priority. Their commitment to routine immunisation services will create a backbone that supports the rest of society as Haiti rebuilds.
GAVI has been a partner with Haiti for more than 10 years, helping to bolster its immunization services. In addition to pentavalent vaccine, GAVI has approved Haiti’s plan to provide vaccines against the two leading causes of child deaths worldwide: pneumonia and rotavirus.
It is an honour that GAVI can play a role in Haiti’s rebirth. When I see the faces of children such as Madeleine, I see the future of Haiti and appreciate the lasting difference that immunisation makes.
I know that it was through a mother’s act of love that my path crossed that of Madeleine. GAVI’s mission is to multiple that act of love millions of times over.
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