What Are We Doing to Prevent a Child from Dying Every 20 Seconds?

By Cindy Cooke and Devi Thomas

Most of us who live in the United States probably don’t give much thought to the importance of immunizing our children against deadly diseases since vaccines are readily available here. To us, these health risks have largely been eradicated from our borders due to high rates of childhood vaccination and the federally funded program Vaccines For Children, which provides vaccines at no cost to children at risk. However, in developing nations, deadly and disabling diseases like pneumonia, diarrhea, measles and even polio remain an ever-present threat to children — not just to the well-being of local populations but to our increasingly mobile global community. While there undoubtedly have been notable successes in battling these diseases, we have yet to win the war when you consider that a child still dies every 20 seconds from a vaccine-preventable disease.

Organizations from around the globe are working together to raise awareness and close the immunization gap. And that’s important, because immunization prevents two to three million deaths per year. However, much work remains to be done as an estimated 18.7 million infants still aren’t receiving basic life-saving vaccines.

The four leading causes of death in children are the following diseases:

  • Pneumonia is the leading cause of infectious death in children worldwide. The acute respiratory infection which can be prevented by vaccination and adequate nutrition, is responsible for killing more than 922,000 children annually or 15 percent of all deaths of children under the age of five. Current global penetration of the vaccine is at just 31 percent.
  • Diarrhea, which can be prevented with rotavirus vaccination, access to safe drinking water, and good hygiene, accounts for one in nine deaths of children worldwide or nearly 2,200 children per day — more than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined. To date, merely one in five children have received the vaccine.
  • Measles still remains one of the leading causes of death among young children, despite the availability of a safe and cost-effective vaccine. Since the year 2000, measles vaccinations have prevented more than 17 million deaths and led to a 79 percent drop in mortality attributed to measles. Yet, the disease still kills nearly 115,000 people per year — 314 deaths every day, 13 deaths every hour. The good news is that 85 percent of children now receive their first dose of the measles vaccine before the age of two.
  • And polio, a disease that’s largely been eradicated in all but two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan, has seen a decrease of 99 percent since 1988 to just 74 cases reported in 2015. This is the result of coordinated global efforts to end the disease. However, a failure to fully eradicate the disease could lead to an estimated 200,000 new cases — threatening children around the world. There remains no cure for polio once it’s been contracted, and it can only be prevented through vaccination.

So, while great strides have been made to combat these and other life-threatening diseases by supporting successful immunization programs, millions of children around the world remain at risk. Therefore, it’s critically important that the U.S. Congress fully fund global vaccine and immunization programs focused on children from developing nations. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners and the United Nations Foundation’s Shot@Life campaign, which connects and empowers Americans to champion vaccines as one of the most cost-effective ways to save the lives of children in developing countries, are partnering to support efforts to make immunization a global health priority, and we hope you will join us. After all, every child deserves a shot at life.

Cindy Cooke, DNP, FNP-C, FAANP, is President of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), the largest professional membership organization for nurse practitioners of all specialties. Devi Thomas is the Director of the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life campaign, which is a global campaign to increase access to immunizations for children in need. For more information, visit www.aanp.org and www.ShotAtLife.org

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