This piece is part of a series of blogs by leading NGOs to call attention to a range of issues that should be raised at the G8 summit at Camp David in rural Maryland from May 18-19.
Some of our greatest global successes occurred when nations around the world worked together to protect their citizens from devastating diseases. We’re incredibly lucky to say that today parents no longer need to worry about the possibility that their children will fall prey to smallpox. Polio — found now only in pockets of Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan — is the target of an intense eradication effort that we hope will assign it to the history books by the end of this decade.
During my work at the World Health Organization (WHO), I witnessed first-hand how hardworking researchers, scientists and public health physicians in laboratories and in the field collaborated with governments to develop vaccines and deliver them to the people who needed them most.
While many vaccines have been fully dispersed in wealthy countries — and as a result are often out of sight, out of mind — access to preventive medicine and vaccines is difficult or nonexistent in many developing countries. Leaders of G8 countries should remember that they still have an important role in protecting children from these diseases. Here are four diseases that could benefit from advocates in G8 countries.
1. Meningococcal Disease — Globally, there are an estimated half a million cases of meningococcal disease, which lead to 50,000 deaths each year. The onset of symptoms can occur suddenly and can rapidly progress, potentially becoming fatal within hours. Survivors of meningococcal disease may experience debilitating neurological side effects including speech disorders, mental retardation and paralysis. Most citizens in wealthy countries are protected from meningococcal disease, but in other regions of the world, such as Latin America, disease surveillance and containment efforts are very limited. Most often, it takes a massive outbreak to draw attention to meningococcal disease in the region. A recent study indicated that the economic and social consequences of meningococcal disease far outweigh the costs of prevention.
2. Rotavirus — By age five, every child across the world will have been affected by rotavirus at least once. Rotavirus is the most common cause of diarrheal hospitalizations and deaths among children worldwide. Development of a rotavirus vaccine has been a global health priority for many years, and with two vaccines currently on the market, the promise of prevention is now becoming reality in several parts of the world. For example, less than a month ago, Ghana became the first African country to simultaneously introduce pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines in its national immunization program in a bid to fight pneumonia and diarrheal diseases, each of which accounts for approximately 10 percent of under-five deaths in the country.
3. Typhoid — Safe, affordable and effective vaccines against typhoid fever are available now. However, for the 21 million people each year who are stricken with the disease, the availability of a vaccine isn’t enough. We need ministries of health and donor governments to come together to make typhoid vaccines easily accessible to those who need them most — mostly children under 5 who don’t have access to clean water. Although typhoid can be treated with antibiotics, resistance to common drugs is widespread and increasing. Vaccines can help eliminate these resistant strains from forming and help put a stop to 200,000 deaths that result from typhoid each year.
4. Dengue — Unlike the other diseases I’ve listed so far, dengue is the only disease without a vaccine. Dengue vaccine development has languished since the 1940s, due to limited knowledge of the global disease burden and low expectations for the potential market value. However, population growth, urbanization and rapid mass transit have resulted in an explosive increase in dengue cases — from 1.2 million in 1998 to as many as 500 million annual cases today — and contributed to an ever-growing number of countries and people at risk of infection. Dengue is now endemic in more than 120 countries across the globe, and is the most prevalent mosquito-borne viral disease. While we can’t say this uptick in outbreaks is good news, it has accelerated the development of a vaccine. Today, several vaccines are in various stages of advanced development, with clinical trials currently underway on five candidate vaccines. Trials in the most advanced stages are showing encouraging preliminary data, and the leading candidate could be licensed as early as 2015.
Access to vaccines is a basic human right that delivers unrivalled socio-economic benefits. As economists for the Copenhagen Consensus have pointed out, routine immunization provides an economic return averaging 20 times the cost of a vaccine and improved vaccine delivery holds the potential to save more lives than if we were ever to achieve world peace.
The 2012 G8 summit offers an important moment for global leaders to signal to the rest of the world that immunization and vaccine development programs are a top priority. They should not let this opportunity pass them by.
Dr. Ciro de Quadros, Huffingtonpost