Inflammation and stories on vaccines

Countries Affected by the Measles OutbreakIn 2019, countries around the world faced a significant increase in measles outbreaks. Besides cases in the United States, people in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Brazil, the Philippines and Somalia have suffered from a resurgence of this preventable disease. There are many causes of the global measles outbreak including the mistrust of vaccines, inadequate access to health care and the global childhood immunization gap.

Measles is caused by a virus and spread through respiratory transmission. It is highly contagious but mostly preventable through childhood vaccinations. Mild symptoms of measles include high fever and a rash. More severe effects of the disease include pneumonia, diarrhea and even deafness.

4 Countries Affected by the Measles Outbreak

  1. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC): In the DRC, measles has killed 5,000 people so far in 2019, which is more than twice as many people as Ebola. More than 90 percent of these deaths are children under the age of 5. Further, the measles outbreak has spread throughout all provinces. Lack of access to health care and a shortage of measles vaccines contribute to these deaths. Additionally, weakened immune systems in malnourished children, deficiencies in vitamin A and diseases such as HIV/AIDS also lead to death. UNICEF and other NGOs have distributed more than 1,300 measles kits containing antibiotics, rehydration salts and other drugs to the most impacted areas. UNICEF has also advocated for a longer-term strategy to address the outbreak.

  2. Brazil: Though Brazil had been deemed free of measles in 2015, as of November 2019 the country has had an estimated 50,000 cases of the disease. The highest concentration of measles cases occurred in Sao Paulo, the state with the highest population. Brazilian officials are concerned that people in an isolated tribe in the Amazon may have contracted the disease. This is of particular concern since these people have a low resistance to measles and other diseases. Health officials in Brazil have implemented a measles vaccination campaign to vaccinate millions of young people between the ages of 20-29 in order to contain the outbreak.

  3. The Philippines: Yet another country that has faced a measles outbreak due to distrust in vaccines is the Philippines. The New York Times reports that measles vaccination rates in the country declined from above 80 percent in 2008 to below 70 percent in 2017. Officials have reported nearly 44,000 measles cases in Manila and the surrounding areas as of November 2019. In response to the measles outbreak, along with outbreaks of polio and dengue, the Philippines Red Cross has sought to expand its efforts. This will require recruiting and training some 2,600 volunteers. In the long-term, the Department of Health aims to increase immunization coverage so that 95 percent of children are vaccinated.

  4. Somalia: According to a November 2019 U.N. article, there have been 3,616 suspected cases of measles in Somalia in 2019. In particular, people in IDP camps (for internally displaced people), areas with high population density and nomadic communities are at greater risk. The illness is particularly deadly for children under 5 in Somalia. Unfortunately, one in seven of these children dies before they turn 5. To combat this outbreak, the Somali government has partnered with UNICEF and the WHO to launch a campaign to vaccinate 1.7 million Somali children.

Several countries have faced measles outbreaks in 2019. Increased immunization coverage during childhood could prevent these outbreaks. As these countries affected by the measles outbreak show, access to vaccines and health care is vitally important. In fact, these ailments are often a matter of life and death. Fortunately, NGOs and governments are working together to prevent future measles outbreaks.

Sarah Frazer
Photo: Flickr

Although there is a vaccine, Polio is still a global problem. Here are some facts on eradicating Polio in developing countries.
People often think of polio as a disease of the past; but for many in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, it is still a very real threat. Poliomyelitis, more commonly known as Polio, is an infectious disease that can result in base level symptoms similar to the flu, or on the more extreme end, it can invade an individual’s spinal cord or brain causing paralysis. Paralysis is the symptom people most commonly associate with Polio because of how deadly it can be. As the disease progresses slowly, the individual eventually loses function across their body and requires outside assistance to do even the most basic task of breathing. Without medical assistance, the individual will asphyxiate. Here is some information about eradicating Polio in developing countries.

Eliminating Polio

Vaccination is the only way to eradicate Polio. Children’s bodies become prepared to fight the disease more effectively with vaccination. Almost all children or 99 out of 100 will have protection from Polio as long as they receive all recommended courses of the vaccination.

However, sanitation also plays a key role in preventing the spread of Polio in the interim. The virus lives in individuals’ throats and intestines, so open sewage systems can leave a community more vulnerable to the spreading virus. The virus can thrive in feces for weeks before dying, leaving plenty of opportunities for people to come into contact with the virus and spread it.

Eradicating Polio is highly dependent on herd immunization, so it is integral that mass vaccination initiatives go to all corners of a country. By immunizing everyone who can take the vaccine, the risk of the disease spreading and those unable to take the vaccine contracting it reduces.

The Reasons Polio Still Exists in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria

Though there have been major advancements in eradicating Polio in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, they still remain vulnerable due to the fear that the vaccine may cause fainting spells and death in children, which are false claims. Additionally, open sewage systems in rural areas and the difficulty to dispense full courses of vaccination to individuals in rural areas play a role in the continued life of Polio.

There is also the issue of spreading. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the majority of new cases of Polio are often in the tribal areas surrounding the shared border of the two countries. The unchecked border often has people traveling back and forth so they are hard to pin down to receive their full course of vaccinations. This also allows for the virus to spread faster and makes it more difficult to isolate the infected.

Nigeria is doing relatively well with the fight towards eradicating Polio. The country no longer has an active outbreak, but it is at high risk of having an outbreak. This is due to active initiatives within the country to assure widespread vaccination and hygiene education to prevent the spread of the virus.

Mutations

Another massive issue these countries and doctors are having with eradicating Polio is that the virus is mutating. In June 2017, there were 21 cases of vaccine-derived Polio in the world. This has been caused by remnants of the oral vaccine getting loose in the environment where it is regaining strength and infecting people. The oral vaccine is from a weak form of the Poliovirus that allows the recipient’s immune system to fight off the virus and become more adept at fighting the active virus if it ever enters their body.

Many also consider the mutated and strengthened strain of the vaccine-derived disease to be more deadly as it has a higher risk of causing paralysis in those infected.

Solutions

The organization, Global Polio Eradication Initiative, is a public-private partnership working in tandem with national governments and private partners including the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Together, they are attempting to roll out vaccines and education programs to aid in eradicating Polio internationally. The organization works with 200 countries and 20 million volunteers to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to live a life free of the pain Polio brings upon individuals and communities.

As of 2019, it has vaccinated over 2.5 billion children, and the number is only growing. This is an incredibly important program, as the alleviation of the threat of infection for every reduces the stress on government health programs. There is also a reduction in the personal and financial burden of contracting and surviving Polio from the shoulders of millions of families.

Through vigilant vaccination distribution and educational programs, the hope is that in the near future, people will be able to live in a world free from the crippling implications of the Poliovirus.

– Emma Hodge
Photo: Flickr

Neglected zoonotic diseasesZoonotic diseases disproportionally affect the poorest communities around the world. These diseases and infections, known as zoonoses, are transmitted between humans and animals. Except for large scale zoonoses like SARS and H5N1 (avian influenza), the majority of these diseases are not prioritized by national and international health systems and are considered neglected. Neglected Zoonotic Diseases (NZD) have the greatest negative impact on the economies and health services in developing countries where rural communities are dependent on livestock for transportation, food and farm labor. Tackling NZDs with education and vaccination is one way to alleviate poverty in developing countries.

Human and Animal Relationships

In the developing world, not only do animals and humans live close together, but humans are reliant on animals for everything from clothing and food to fertilizer and power. These animals represent financial security for smallholder farmers (SHFs) and marginalized populations (MPs). Globally, there are 191 million people categorized as rural poor. Of those, 411 million are livestock keepers. With animals directly contributing to the livelihoods of over 70 percent of rural poor communities, it’s crucial to keep livestock healthy for a sustainable existence. Healthy animals can be used for both base income or sold to supplement household income, therefore keeping livestock is recognized as one of the leading routes to alleviating poverty.

NZDs keep animals from achieving their full economic potential—either by dying from disease or transmitting the disease to humans. Despite existing vaccines that could be effective in the prevention and control of these diseases, many SHFs and MPs reside in low resource settings without access to health care services. Other reasons for a lack of knowledge and solutions include the irregular lifestyles of mobile pastoralists, religious and cultural beliefs, and small community numbers. One of the largest problems to consider when tackling NZDs is the fact that there is little incentive for the vaccination of livestock because the animals show no signs of the disease and their economic value does not increase after vaccination.

Sustainable Solutions

NZDs are neglected because the global demand for these vaccines is low. So, one of the first steps to creating sustainable solutions is to support regional manufacturers in developing countries. This would forge a path for stockpiles or antigen banks to be created in these small communities. Aside from the manufacturing aspect, community and social engagement are needed to incentivize SHFs to vaccinate their animals. If human health care initiatives can be integrated with animal health care initiatives, pastoral farming areas could simultaneously vaccinate both their human and animal populations. In order to improve the prevention and control of NZDs, there needs to be a multidisciplinary effort by agriculture, health and environment sectors at a national level.

Conclusion

Because these diseases are not considered major public health burdens like tuberculosis, malaria or HIV/AIDS, neglected zoonotic diseases do not garner the same media attention or monetary contributions from the public or private sectors. But, it’s important to look at the numbers—at least 61 percent of all human pathogens are zoonotic, representing 75 percent of all emerging pathogens in the last decade. These neglected zoonotic diseases that disproportionally affect the poorest communities globally have some of the largest impacts. One vaccine shot could be the difference in a life of poverty or a life of prosperity.

– Trey Ross
Photo: Flickr

No or Low-Power Refrigeration
A major issue in developing countries is preserving the effectiveness of vaccines to get them to people in rural areas. This is because of hot climates and the lack of refrigeration. Globally, 19.4 million infants are not adequately immunized and approximately 1.5 million children die annually from vaccine-preventable diseases. Lack of intermittent electricity not only makes transportation and storage of vaccines impossible but also makes constant refrigeration of perishable foods unattainable. This impacts not only consumers but also farmers who are unable to sell most of their products because they go bad during transit and storage. India grows 25 percent of global production but is only able to export 1.5 percent of its produce. Thirty-one percent of children under the age of 5 in developing countries are underweight due to malnourishment because they have no way of preserving the little food they have. However, there are a number of no or low-power refrigeration inventions that have been successful at providing refrigeration to rural areas, thereby improving overall health. Here are some no or low-power refrigeration inventions.

SureChill

People in hot, rural areas with little to no electricity, such as Africa, have limited access to vaccines. This is because vaccines require storage at a cool and constant temperature between 35.6 and 46.4 degrees Fahrenheit (2 to 8 degrees Celsius) in order to remain effective. Due to the temperature requirements, vaccines have traditionally only been available to a main village on a particular day during a month. However, people remote to that village cannot always get the vaccine on that particular day. Compared to urban areas, vaccination in rural areas is around 11 percent lower. This enables pandemics to spread quickly through an area, resulting in more victims and casualties.

SureChill is a refrigerator solely to preserve vaccines up to 14 days without power to help more people receive vaccinations. When it has power, the water in SureChill cools and creates ice right above the vaccine compartment. When it does not have power, the water evaporates as the ice melts, which keeps the vaccines at 39.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius).

Mitticool

Without refrigeration, the shelf life of food is around two days. Many rural areas do not have electricity, thus need an inexpensive method to preserve food for longer periods of time. The Mitticool fridge is made from terracotta clay which is better at retaining cold temperatures. It can store vegetables, fruit and dairy, and can cool water without any electricity or artificial energy. Like SureChill, it uses evaporation techniques. Condensation on the upper chambers (where it stores water) evaporates, cooling the inside. There is also a small faucet tap at the front lower end of the chamber for drinking.

Solar-Powered Refrigeration

Fridges can run on solar power rather than electricity. People usually use these fridges to transport vaccines but they can also store food. For example, Emily Cummins invented a device that can be made from ordinary materials like scrap metal, cardboard, sand, wool and soil. This device works by converting sunlight into energy that chills its storage compartment. Rather than using a motor to compress a refrigerant solution (like the ones in stores), solar fridges are absorptive, which means that they use thermal energy from sunlight to convert the refrigerant solution into liquid. This then produces energy that cools the items inside of the fridge. People are using solar fridges in Africa.

Thermal Chilling System

India’s Promethean Power Systems provides a modern thermal chilling system to chill dairy products. Indian dairy farmers were losing up to $13 billion annually due to a lack of refrigeration for perishables. To solve this problem, Promethean Power Systems developed a solar-powered milk chiller. Like other forms of solar-powered chilling techniques, it uses solar energy to power a 500-liter battery and cooling agent, which can chill up to 1,000 liters of milk. This has eradicated the Indian dairy farmer’s need for diesel, making it better for the environment while also more efficiently chilling milk and keeping it free of contaminants.

Initiatives

Some initiatives concerning no or low-power refrigeration are the Global LEAP Off-Grid Procurement Incentives Program and the Global LEAP Off-Grid Cold Chain Challenge. The former has received three orders to deploy 1,025 energy-efficient, off-grid appropriate refrigerators. Said orders are some of the world’s first large-scale, off-grid refrigerator procurement. The latter is part of the U.K. aid-funded Ideas to Impact Initiative. It starts investment and innovation in cold storage tech, mostly in regards to the transfer of dairy/produce from farms to markets.

No or low-power refrigeration inventions show that green power needs to be an integral part of the world’s future. These technologies bring inexpensive refrigeration to developing countries, providing access to life-saving vaccines, reducing the danger and spread of food-borne diseases, decreasing the manual labor and time of collecting or purchasing food and enabling farmers to store crops and dairy to preserve freshness and store goods longer in hopes of getting a better price a little later. These refrigeration options have already increased overall health and well-being, as well as improving the local economies.

– Nyssa Jordan
Photo: Flickr

Nigeria Beat Polio
Like many countries in Africa, Nigeria has historically had to deal with serious diseases. One such disease that has been a prominent issue for the country is polio. Polio is an infectious disease that the poliovirus causes. The most common symptoms of polio are fevers, sore throats and nausea, among others. In more severe cases, polio can induce paralysis and meningitis, an infection that affects the spinal cord and brain. Recently, Nigeria beat polio by increasing vaccinations.

Polio Vaccines in Nigeria

The Nigerian government banned vaccinations for the poliovirus in 2003 amid fears they caused Muslim girls to become sterile and helped spread AIDS throughout the region. Around this time, reports stated an outbreak of polio cases throughout Nigeria, as well as many other parts of Africa. Afterward, United Nations officials convinced the then governor of Kano that the vaccinations were safe, although the virus continued to plague Nigeria.

In 2007, reports stated that many new cases of polio in Nigeria came as a result of a mutated vaccine. Normally the polio vaccine involves an injection with a more mild version of the poliovirus. Around this time, however, the vaccines appeared to have helped induce polio instead. This increased people’s concern over vaccinations and many did not perceive them to be a good idea, although it the United Nation’s World Health Organization (WHO) stressed the rarity of these mutations.

According to WHO, Nigeria accounted for more than half of all polio cases in 2012. However, WHO also reported that the country made great efforts since then to reduce the incidents of polio, including “increased community involvement and the establishment of Emergency Operations Centers at the national and state-level.” These efforts have allowed the Nigerian government to respond to outbreaks more efficiently and carry out vaccinations accordingly.

A Reduction in Polio Cases

According to WHO, Nigeria went two years from 2014 to 2016 without any cases of polio. WHO has attributed this to the Nigerian government’s efforts to combat the disease. However, this period quickly came to an end on August 2016, when reports indicated that polio paralyzed two children in the northern Borno state.

As of August 20, 2019, Nigeria achieved three years without any cases of polio. The liberation of the Borno State area in northeastern Nigeria from the Islamist military group, Boko Haram, may be a cause. This military group’s stated purpose was to forbid Muslim citizens in Nigeria from taking part in any activities associated with Western society. As a result of the liberation from Boko Haram, more children have been able to receive treatment for polio, including vaccinations.

Compared to the 600,000 children under the age of 5 who missed out on vaccinations in 2016, only 60,000 children under the age of 5 missed out on receiving vaccinations as of August 20, 2019. This is thanks to factors such as increased surveillance in various islands on Lake Chad, thus allowing them to see which ones people inhabit, thus allowing them to perform vaccinations on more people.

Nigeria Free of the Poliovirus

Nigeria is the last country in Africa to have had any records of the wild poliovirus, and WHO has announced that polio is no longer endemic on the African continent. In other words, thanks to the fact that vaccines have become more advanced and widespread, and the Nigerian government’s increased efforts to respond to these cases, many believe that not only has Nigeria beat polio, it is also virtually nonexistent in Africa as a whole.

While Nigeria beat polio and the virus’ presence in Africa may have faded, the disease has not completely disappeared. Several projects have formed to put an end to it once and for all, though. One such project is the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). GPEI partners with organizations such as the World Health Organization and Rotary International. According to the GPEI website, it has helped ensure over 2.5 billion vaccinations for children all across the world in over 200 countries. This is a clear example of what the average person can do to help eliminate this disease.

– Adam Abuelheiga
Photo: Flickr

HPV Vaccine in the Middle EastGlobalization opens up channels to foreign cultural trends and facilitate the free exchange of ideas between populations of different countries. Youth in more religiously and culturally conservative regions of the world are particularly influenced by foreign representations of sexual intercourse in pop culture. Tackling problems surrounding the HPV vaccine in the Middle East and North Africa is becoming more of an issue as young people are beginning to experiment more with sex but without the preventive measures taken by other countries to confront sexually transmitted diseases and the long-term consequences of exposure.

Regional Barriers to Preventive Measures

Since many people in the Middle East and North Africa associate the immunization of adolescents with STI-preventing vaccines with the presumption that adolescents are seeking sexual intercourse, religiously strict societies of this region fail to implement preventive sexual health measures such as HPV vaccinations and cervical cancer screenings. Common understanding suggests that these societies view the HPV vaccine as an infringement on long-standing cultural and religious practices and a foreign intrusion on regional values. However, this perception is largely shaped by key religious leaders and politicians who regulate public discourse and are viewed as possessing the authority to distinguish between what is morally right and wrong. In fact, contributors working on behalf of the Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal have discovered that most families in the Middle East and North Africa display an acceptance of STI-preventing vaccines and educative initiatives promoting sexual health.

Public View on the HPV Vaccine in the Middle East and North Africa

A study published by WHO in 2017 examined 18 studies pulled from the PubMed and Embase databases dated between January 2010 and April 2017 to ascertain the prevalence of the HPV vaccine in the countries composing the Arab World. The selected studies interviewed various groups and subgroups of national populations, including adolescent men and women, young men and women, women of various age groups, healthcare professionals and parents. Among a variety of questions probed were knowledge of the existence of an HPV vaccine and awareness of the causal link between HPV and cervical cancer. The question limited to this report address general acceptance of the HPV vaccine in the Middle East and North Africa.

The results were promising. Considering the religious composition of the Arab World, the non-secular identities of political bodies in Arab countries and the influence of religion on policymaking, 99 percent of Egyptian women, 91.3 percent of Bahraini women and 89.9 percent of Saudi women were accepting of the HPV vaccine. Rates of acceptability among women tended to be high in most Arab countries, although the lowest incidence was recorded by a study of Emirati women which showed an acceptability rate of 46 percent. The average acceptability rate for university men in the United Arab Emirates was 46 percent and a 2015 study in Morocco showed that 76.8 percent of mothers and 68.9 percent of fathers approved of immunizing their children with the HPV vaccine.

Promoting the HPV vaccine in the Middle East and North Africa

The national health organizations of many countries in the region are promoting an open discourse about sexual health and advocating for the institutionalization of vaccinations in public facilities such as schools. Cervical cancer remains among the top ten leading causes of death among women in Arab countries. Meanwhile, Israel possesses one of the lowest rates in the world. This could be due to the institutionalized vaccination system in the Israeli school system. However, Baruch Velan, a vaccination compliance researcher at the Gertner Institute for Health Policy and Epidemiology in Israel, cites that the HPV vaccine compliance rate is higher in the Arab population than in the Jewish population in Israel. Why Israel has such low rates of cervical cancer, especially compared to other countries in the region, is unknown.

The changing views toward the HPV vaccine in the Middle East and North Africa shows that there is hope to increase vaccinations and decrease rates of cervical in the region.

– Grayson Cox
Photo: Flickr

What is Davos
For the last 50 years, world leaders have been flying across the world to take part in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) facilitated conversations that might leave people wondering what is Davos, exactly? The small Swiss town, Davos, is home to the annual meeting held by WEF where invited elite address global issues and how to solve them.

In 2019, there were 3,000 people that joined together in the Swiss Alps to propose new initiatives for various issues, including how to help those in developing countries. The organization has been present in the creation of successful initiatives to provide vaccines and water to those in poverty as well as in the development of a project to prevent sickle cell disease in Ghana.

Gavi the Vaccine Alliance

Nearly two decades ago, Gavi the Vaccine Alliance launched at Davos, an organization that aims to provide vaccines and immunizations to children living in poverty. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provided $750 million to get the organization running.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also founded Gavi and began partnering with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 2008. UNICEF distributes vaccines and immunizations on behalf of Gavi, having spent $1 billion in 2014. In 2018, UNICEF distributed products to nearly 70 countries for Gavi, and plans on doing the same in 2019, according to its shipment plans.

Gavi’s goal is to immunize 300 million children between 2016 and 2020, already having provided 700 million children with immunizations. When people living in poverty receive vaccines to common diseases, it removes a financial burden and could eventually allow them to alleviate their poverty, according to a Harvard Health Policy Review article.

Water.org’s Clean Water Initiative

At the 2017 Davos meeting, Matt Damon and Gary White, founders of Water.org, announced the organization’s partnership with Stella Artois in providing water to 3.5 million people. According to WHO, 2.1 billion people lack access to clean, safe water in their home which can lead to the spread of diseases and death. To combat this phenomenon, Water.org is selling Stella Artois chalices and using a portion of the profits for WaterCredit, a system that allows local communities to take out loans to improve their water situation. This can mean different solutions for different communities allowing them a choice that best serves their needs, according to NPR. This partnership is just one of the initiatives in place by Water.org; Water.org and Stella Artois have been working together since 2015 and have helped over 1.7 million people gain access to clean water.

Sickle Cell Screening in Ghana

At the 2019 Davos meeting, the government of Ghana signed a five-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Novartis, a Swiss pharmaceutical company, to treat sickle cell disease within the country. Two percent of Ghanian newborns are born with sickle cell disease, according to a 2005 study of over 200,000 newborns. Director of Ghana Health Service, Dr. Anthony Nsiah-Asare, stated at Davos that he hopes that the MOU will allow for the placement of treatment centers in all regional hospitals and the screening of every newborn while also collecting and analyzing data on the disease.

As of March 2019, 5,600 doses of Hydroxyurea, a daily drug treatment for the disease, went to Ghana for sale at a reduced price, according to Ghana Business News. By September 2019, 40,000 more doses should enter the country.

In answering the question, “what is Davos?”, it is a small city where big leaders have been working towards making changes for more than 20 years, like the alleviation of poverty through acts such as providing vaccines, clean water services and disease screenings to countries in need. At varying levels of success, these initiatives have reached millions of people suffering from poverty and seem to be maintaining momentum.

– Makenna Hall
Photo: Flickr

vaccination rates in Papua New Guinea

Across the globe, access to adequate healthcare appears to be of paramount concern for both governmental and non-governmental organizations. Not only does providing health services to underserved and under-represented populations increase general wellbeing and happiness, it has also proven to be beneficial for the economy, per the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Pushing for Vaccinations

In February, the southeast Asian nation of Papua New Guinea declared 2019 as “The Year of Immunization,” in an effort to stave off preventable diseases and promote healthier lifestyles. This push to increase vaccination rates in Papua New Guinea was further intensified following several polio outbreaks across the country in Summer and late 2018 as well as in early 2019, and outbreaks of measles in 2014 and 2015 with 2,000 total confirmed cases and over 350 deaths. This recent resurgence in the near-eradicated virus can be attributed to sub-optimal living conditions and lack of wide-spread, generalized immunization.

Furthermore, the efforts to increase vaccination rates in Papua New Guinea would hopefully spur the economy, lifting more citizens out of poverty (as of 2002, 37 percent of New Guinea’s population lived below the global poverty line – approximately 2.5 million people), though this economic boost would act primarily as an added bonus to preventing polio, rubella and measles.

Widescale immunization quickly became a top priority for the government and National Department of Health of Papua New Guinea. While initially a daunting task, the southeast Asian nation partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and other non-profit organizations, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in order to better coordinate these immunization campaigns.

According to UNICEF, one of the polio campaigns sought to immunize over three million children up to the age of 15-years-old. As of late July 2019, these campaigns have been deemed as successful by the government, significantly increasing vaccination rates in Papua New Guinea. Since February, Papua New Guinea’s National Department of Health, along with the WHO, and UNICEF have led eight successful immunization campaigns, vaccinating approximately 1.28 million children under the age of five for polio, in addition to just over one million children of the same age for rubella and measles.

Cooperation Among Organizations

The success of these campaigns can be traced to swift action and cooperation between the primarily players. The WHO estimates that over 12,000 workers (from vaccination specialists, mobilizers and surveillance officers) helped to orchestrate these movements across the country – movements, which according to The Papua New Guinea National Department of Health, have had a 95 percent success rate.

While these increased vaccination rates in Papua New Guinea are positive signs for the future of the country’s health promotion and disease prevention, it is important to note that Papua New Guinea was declared as polio free in 2000 and went 18 years without a confirmed case of polio. It is essential that Papua New Guinea continue these immunization campaigns in order to guarantee healthier lifestyles for the rest of 2019 and into the future.

– Colin Petersdorf
Photo: Flickr

biometric identificationGavi, the Geneva-based vaccine alliance, has partnered with Simprints Technology in order to provide more accurate records of vaccination for children in Bangladesh and Tanzania. The partnership hopes to use biometric identification methods to track the medical history of children under five. Because half of the children born in sub-Saharan Africa are not registered at birth, they lack an official “identity,” making it infinitely more difficult to access medical care and vaccinations for life-threatening diseases. This ever-evolving technology would allow doctors to administer immunizations at clinics to scan a child’s fingerprint, and immediately have access to a complete record of vaccinations.

What is Biometric Identification?

Biometric identification uses unique indications of a person, such as a fingerprint, voice recording, retinal scan or even an ear scan, as proof of a person’s identity. Major technology corporations like Apple have been moving towards this as a more secure mode of entry to devices like laptops or smartphones. As so many facets of daily life are digitalized, and with many people in developed countries possessing more than one device and countless online accounts, this method does away with the need for passwords and usernames. Instead, users may unlock their devices or accounts with their fingerprints or their face. Because of the reliability and security of this method, global poverty initiatives, like Simprints, are looking towards this technology as a means of accurately tracking medical history and practice.

The Security Risks

Though biometric identification poses many benefits, there are security risks to using this technology. Just as bank account passwords or credit card information can be hacked and stolen to be used for profit, so too can this more complex information. Hackers would not be stealing someone’s fingerprint or retinal scan. Instead, as technology like this becomes more prevalent, a robust online identity will be attached to individuals, geographic location, gender, and medical records. Access to this information may allow companies seeking a profit to contact a more specific demographic, and hackers may sell this information to people who may benefit from it.

These security risks are combatted by ensuring informed consent before any scans are taken and allowing every individual to determine for what purposes their data is used.

The Vaccination Record Initiative

Simprints Technology, a non-profit organization specializing in biometric identification, is providing the fingerprinting equipment for this trial. The company’s mission is to use biometric identifying technologies to fight global poverty, primarily by easing the minutia of healthcare. For example, these methods can also be used to increase maternal healthcare by more effectively tracking an expectant mother’s doctor visits.

In Bangladesh and Tanzania, Simprints and Gavi will work to create digital identities for thousands of young children. Simprints technology is so fine-tuned for this type of work that their equipment can account for the blurriness of a child’s fingerprints, and potential burning or scarring of the hands that is more common for people from this demographic. Once these programs are enacted, doctors or those working in medical clinics will simply scan a child’s finger to access a complete and accurate medical record.

Despite security concerns regarding biometric identification and its uses, this increased health initiative will safeguard children against preventable diseases. The program is a demonstration of how people with a desire to fight global poverty are doing so with revolutionary technology.

– Gina Beviglia
Photo: Flickr

Vaccine Hesitancy in Developing CountriesVaccine hesitancy, the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines, has been around since the invention of the vaccine. Recently, there has been an increase in vaccine hesitancy in developing countries due to safety concerns and long-term effects. With this skepticism, outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases that were once thought mostly eradicated such as measles, pertussis and diphtheria, have increased in frequency around the world.

This year, the World Health Organization named vaccine hesitancy one of the top 10 threats to global health. Vaccines remain the safest and most cost-effective ways of preventing diseases. Currently, vaccines save between two and three million lives a year.

Furthermore, if coverage improves, vaccines can save an additional 1.5 million lives per year. The reasons for vaccine hesitancy are complex, but a vaccine advisory group identified complacency, inconvenience in accessing vaccines and a lack of confidence as some of the root causes. With these factors identified, if now becomes a question of how to fight these causes of vaccine hesitancy in developing countries.

Complacency

Some health experts have theorized that vaccine skepticism stems from the fact that vaccines are so effective that parents no longer remember or fear vaccine-preventable diseases like measles and polio. Instead, they may focus their anxieties on the safety of vaccines, effects or the number and timing of injections.

Without a proper understanding of the devastating effects of these diseases, parents have less of a motivation to vaccinate. EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukatis said at an international health conference, “We have become victims of our own success.”

Convenience

Vaccine hesitancy in developing countries is often bolstered by the need for medical infrastructure. Inadequacy and the inequities in health systems like poverty, the disparity in infant mortality and life expectancy and a need for trained providers damages community trust.

To combat this, many countries have implemented mandatory vaccinations in schools, with mixed results. In India, for example, during their measles and rubella vaccination campaign, parents objected to their children being vaccinated without their consent, stalling the campaign in court.

Rwanda, on the other hand, was successful in its HPV vaccination campaign by coupling it with an information campaign. The campaign targeted parents and explained the need for this vaccine.

Confidence

Much of the anti-vaxxer movement is built in misinformation. Vaccine hesitancy in developing countries often stems from rumors about vaccines. For instance, that the polio and HPV vaccines caused infertility and impotency. The movement stems from general concerns about the safety of vaccines.

Health workers, especially those operating in the communities, are the parents’ most trusted health advisors and act as the biggest influencer of vaccination decisions. Because of their position, they must be supported so that they may provide parents with credible information. The most effective campaigns to fight vaccine hesitancy in developing countries are the ones that tailor to the community. Healthcare workers in the community are vital for implementing these campaigns.

In Rwanda, for example, healthcare workers went door to door to explain the benefits of the HPV vaccine. They focused on the fact that the vaccination is meant to prevent cancer. The workers brought diagrams of the female reproductive system. They also dispelled rumors by explaining that cervical cancer is far more likely to cause infertility than vaccines. Because the campaigned was tailored to the community, it was met with a lot of success.

Overcoming Vaccine Hesitancy

While there is an increase in vaccine hesitancy in developing countries and around the world, immunization campaigns are experiencing successes. Transmission of wild poliovirus, for example, may stop in Afghanistan and Pakistan this year. Additionally, cervical cancer may be eliminated in 181 countries by the end of the century.

To keep this up, health officials have to be proactive in fighting vaccine hesitancy in developing countries by fighting complacency, making access to healthcare more convenient and building confidence by creating programs tailored to the community.

– Katharine Hanifen
Photo: Flickr