Vaccinations are something that we take completely for granted here in America. It always amuses me, as a Labor & Delivery nurse, that our patients can opt in or opt out of vaccinations for their newborns. It is something we take for granted but in other parts of the world, vaccinations means life or death. Millions of children’s lives are put at risk every year because they lack access to life-saving vaccines. The people who are on the fields, risking their lives to improve the lives of these children are heroes. With every vaccination they administer, they are are giving that child a shot at a future, a shot @ life.
The story I am sharing with you today, isn’t about overcoming tragedy or heartbreak, rather I hope that it will lift your spirits and make you cheer. Today I am so honored, as part of Shot@Life’s 28 days of Impact, to share the story of Nilgun, an everyday hero who is helping to change the future of millions of children by ensuring access to these critical vaccines despite the many obstacles in her way. Nilgun Aydogon is a program officer with the GAVI Alliance, a public-private partnership focused on saving children’s lives by increasing access to immunization in poor countries.
Immunization in remote areas like Myanmar and Ali Boke require lots of careful planning. When in Ali Boke, Nilgun and her team have to leave in the wee hours of the morning before the sun appears to avoid the extreme heat that plagues this region and reach the furthest most remote villages to administer as much of the vaccines they’ve received for the month. Because there is limited space, spotty unreliable electricity and no backup generators, vaccines are only available on the first day of every month, delivery day is known fondly to the villages as Vaccine Day. Even with the most careful of planning to vaccinate as many children on a trip, sadly unused vaccines go to waste. There is no way to ensure safe return due to the extreme heat they face daily. To administer vaccines on a regular basis in these towns is near impossible with heat that rises on averages to 40° C (104° F).
On one trip, Nilgun traveled in Myanmar for 4 days to administer vaccines. She is fortunate that the people of Myanmar welcome her and her team with open arms. The villages treat vaccination day like a festival even though many of the children do not have immunization cards and there is no place to dispose of used syringes. With her team, she entered places of worship like a Buddhist temple where they respectfully remove their shoes in order to administer the measles vaccine to children. Each family attending was issued an invitation card and a midwife would go out after to make sure all of the children received the immunization.
This is an excerpt from Nilgun’s travel diary:
Vaccines perish if exposed to Myanmar’s baking heat, so I’m inspecting freezers storing vials at Pyinmana Hospital. Cold mist rises as Myint Han opens a lid to reveal boxes of measles vaccines ready for distribution, usually in a cold box on the back of a motorbike.
Everything conforms to best practice, but I‘m concerned there is no emergency generator if one of Myanmar’s frequent power outages strikes.
Limited storage means vaccines are only available on routine immunization days, usually in the first week of each month. This works well for campaigns that occur over a few days. But there are not enough vaccines stored in local hospitals to provide day-to-day routine services and run immunization clinics in remote villages.
This will be a problem when Myanmar introduces the sophisticated pentavalent vaccine later this year. There is also no means to take back vaccines that go unused; they risk perishing in the heat.
Every day there are people like Nilgun on the ground, doing their very best to give children a shot at life. Despite the work of people like Nilgun, one in five children still lack access to life-saving immunizations, putting them at risk for preventable diseases and death. Vaccines are still one of the most cost-effective ways to save the lives of children in developing countries. The impact of immunization is powerful. With continued prioritization within the U.S. government, through USAID, the CDC, and our United Nations partners, we can make sure all children in developing countries receive the life-saving vaccines they so desperately need.
You may ask, what can I do right now, right here? You can use your voice and ask Congress to make Global Vaccination a Priority by filling out this form. You may remember back in August, I asked you to comment to save a life. That was just the beginning — a catalyst. We’re so close to eradicating life threatening diseases like Polio. I am asking you to fill out this simple form and share. Make your voice count and help people like Nilgun to continue their life changing work.
The impact of vaccines on the lives of children around the world is incredible. Now, you can help sustain the impact by sending an email to your member of congress. Welcome your members to the 113th Congress and ask them to make sure that global health and vaccines are a priority in the new Congress. Take action and make an impact!
This story comes from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and is part of Shot@Life’s ’28 Days of Impact’ Campaign. A follow up to Blogust to raise awareness for global vaccines and the work being done by Shot@Life and their partners to help give children around the world a shot at a healthy life. Each day in February, you can read another impactful story on global childhood vaccines. Tomorrow, don’t miss Liz Gumbinner of Mom 101’s post! Go to www.shotatlife.org/impact to learn more.