This op-ed was originally published in Le Monde newspaper earlier today, translated from French.
These deaths are not simple fatalities. They can be avoided!
A quick, effective and inexpensive solution exists: administering, as soon as possible, two new vaccines that specifically target pneumonia and diarrhea, primarily caused by pneumococcal bacteria and rotavirus.
These vaccines are widely available in developed countries like France, but have not been introduced on a large scale in national vaccination programs of the countries that need them the most.
In Senegal, since malaria has declined, pneumonia and diarrhea constitute the two leading causes of mortality among children under the age of five. Complications related to acute respiratory failure are as deadly as complications from diarrhea.
But administering these two new vaccines to our children lies within our capability: between 2000 and 2009, my ministry was able to increase vaccination coverage in Senegal from 50 percent to 89 percent by dispensing the pentavalent vaccine that fights five diseases in a single injection.
Thus, the technical solutions exist and health care human resources can be mobilized at any moment: our doctors, nurses, and NGOs are on high alert.
One unknown still remains in solving the fatal equation of our children’s health: the sustainable mobilization of funding to rise up to the challenge of the Millennium Development Goal of reducing the under-five mortality rate by two thirds between 1990 and 2015.
These are the stakes for the upcoming GAVI Alliance Pledging Conference for Immunization, to be held in London on 13 June 2011. Mobilizing €2.6 billion over the next five years will allow 250 million children to be immunized and 4 million of their lives to be saved in the poorest countries on the planet.
These stakes cannot be summarized by a cold financial calculation. Vaccinating a child is investing in the future, guaranteeing his or her right to life, and also enabling mothers to access health centers while promoting an exchange of information on contraceptive methods and advising them on care for themselves and their children. From an economic development point of view, it also benefits a population that is able to work and thrive by taking away the burden of this daily fear.
Simply stated, it is the government’s responsibility to offer its citizens the means to prevent the causes of their poor conditions and poor development. My country, Senegal, and dozens of other countries that submitted an application to GAVI to introduce new vaccines, are taking this responsibility to our citizens by pledging as of today to co-finance the purchase of these vaccines.
A few days away from this much overlooked conference, with the life or death of 4 million innocent children hanging in the balance, one variable remains unknown. How much will the international community contribute? Specifically, the contribution of G8 member countries that recently met in Deauville, along with invited African leaders, including our President, Mr. Abdoulaye Wade. At that time, the heads of state took stock of their past commitments, especially last year’s commitments, to mobilize an additional 5 billion dollars for women’s and children’s health. For a change, it turns out that these pledges will be far exceeded, so why not release these funds immediately to prevent foreseeable deaths rather than cure them after the fact? A few days before the GAVI Pledging Conference, even though no donors have yet publicly announced the amount of their commitment, it is my duty to sound the alarm, on behalf of the millions without a voice who have no knowledge of these distant stakes. As the saying goes, to govern is to foresee.
-Modou Diagne Fada. Minister of Health and Prevention of the Republic of Senegal