The Washington Post, December 2014
A mother cares for her baby, suffering from severe diarrhea, at the gastroenteritis ward in Dar-es-Salaam’s Muhimbili hospital.
As a pediatrician in Tanzania, my days are spent making individual children healthy and working to save their lives. But today, I am celebrating my contribution to an effort that will save millions of children’s lives – more than I could treat in an entire lifetime!
Today, two new vaccines, pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines, were launched in Tanzania; they provide children the best protection available against the primary causes of pneumonia and the severest form of diarrhea. These two diseases are among the leading killers of children in Tanzania and around the world, and I am proud to be an advocate for the introduction and use of these life-saving vaccines in my own country, Tanzania, and in other developing countries.
Dr. Namala treats a child with pneumonia.
Diarrhea accounts for nine percent of under five deaths in Tanzania, and more than half those deaths are due to rotavirus, the most common cause of severe and fatal diarrhea in young children worldwide. Rotavirus takes the lives of more than 8,100 Tanzanian children under five each year and is the cause of one-third of hospitalizations for diarrhea of under-fives.
On duty recently at the hospital in Dar-es-Salaam where I work, I took a call from a woman who was in such distress she could barely tell me her name. Her baby was terribly sick -- vomiting and with profuse diarrhea -- and not responding. I told the woman to rush her baby to the hospital, where we found she was so severely dehydrated that her heart was unable to pump enough blood around her body. She needed urgent and intensive care to save her life. The baby survived, but only because her mother reached the hospital in time. Many children across Africa are not lucky enough to have a hospital within easy reach.
Vaccination offers the best hope for preventing severe rotavirus infection and the deadly dehydrating diarrhea it causes.
Our pediatric society in Tanzania has been active in promoting this message and advocating for new vaccine introduction. Thanks to the 2010 International Pediatric Association Immunization & Millennium Development Goal Champion advocacy training workshop organized in Johannesburg, South Africa by the GAVI Alliance, Johns Hopkins University and PATH, our pediatric society learned how to more effectively advocate for immunization, which we have successfully put into practice.
We organized events to raise awareness about pneumonia and diarrhea control, including radio and TV sessions, visits to rural health centers to brief our peers about pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines, and visits to schools to brief teachers and children about these killer diseases. We convened advocacy meetings, including a Vaccine Symposium at the National hospital where we presented the importance of introducing these new life-saving vaccines to the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, among others.
Now we can finally see the results of our advocacy efforts with today’s joint introduction of pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccine into our routine immunization program! Our children will now have the best tools to fight the leading causes of pneumonia and severe rotavirus diarrhea, and we will certainly see a dramatic decrease in these diseases. I would like to call upon all my fellow pediatric colleagues to raise their voices and to advocate for the introduction of pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines in their countries, because advocacy pays off. Because vaccine advocacy saves lives!
Now it’s time for me and my fellow pediatricians to go celebrate… and vaccinate!
-- Dr. Namala P. Mkopi, MD, is Secretary General of the Pediatric Association of Tanzania and a pediatric advocate and immunization champion.
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Photo credit: PATH/Doune Porter.