Dr. Kevin De Cock is Director of the CDC Center for Global Health (CGH).
Many voices join in the inspirational stories of global health. Today we begin sharing these stories through a new blog we call “Our Global Voices.” Check in often to hear and share in global health stories from around the world. We invite you to join the conversation on important global health topics. In this blog you’ll interact with CDC’s global health leaders and staff working to improve health and save lives around the world.
We kick off our blog today with the first ever World Immunization Week, observed April 21-28, 2012. Immunization prevents between 2 and 3 million deaths every year worldwide. World Immunization Week is a global event sponsored by the World Health Organization to underscore the importance of immunization in saving lives and to encourage parents to vaccinate their children.
Let me share three reasons why immunization is so important to protecting children and for improving health for all of us.
If ever the term “breakthrough” applies to public health, it applies to immunization. Through this approach we have witnessed extraordinary progress against a host of infectious diseases that caused incalculable suffering and loss throughout most of human history. Today safe and effective vaccinations spare the lives of countless children, and at the same time protect parents and families. Diseases like diphtheria, pertussis, measles, rubella, and polio once swept through communities. Now, most people in developed countries never encounter anyone who’s had any one of these diseases because immunization works so well at preventing or even eradicating them. Some vaccines, like those against human papilloma virus and hepatitis B virus, for example, prevent later complications such as cancer of the liver and cervix, respectively.
Immunization is possible
CDC, the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are helping countries assure that no fewer than nine out of ten children in every country receive the three-dose diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP3) vaccine by their first birthday. By 2009 coverage reached 82 percent. In January 2012, India marked its first anniversary without a single case of polio. Successful polio elimination in the world’s second largest country demonstrates, again, that immunization works and immunization is possible.
Immunization is right
The public health tradition upholds the ideal of social justice. We can attribute the virtual elimination of severe illness and death from childhood diseases in the world’s affluent countries to safe, effective vaccines. Immunization works; its safety and affordability make immunization possible everywhere. But just as measles progress has shown to be fragile in Europe when immunization uptake declines, so it is across much of Africa where weak programs lead to renewed outbreaks and deaths. Measles can then affect unvaccinated individuals and communities in the US. Our commitment to social justice obliges us to recognize that regardless of where they live, children and adults need not suffer from diseases we can and should prevent. That is the promise and moral obligation of immunization.