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What “preventable” means

vaccine3a-062568E.jpg
© UNICEF/ HQ06-2568/Giacomo Pirozzi
SOLOMON ISLANDS: A health worker immunizes six-month-old Ladi at Kakabona Clinic, located near Honiara, the capital, on Guadalcanal Island. UNICEF supports the clinic with vaccines and medical supplies.

As Adam Fifield wrote earlier this week, we’re all thrilled to learn that child mortality rates have, once again, dropped. You can’t imagine what news like this does for folks like us who are devoted to child survival. Fewer children are dying. In a word: whaahhoooooooo.

At UNICEF, we can’t think of the success of the child survival movement without thinking of James P. Grant. Jim Grant was Executive Director of UNICEF from 1980 to 1995 and was instrumental in launching what was then called the Child Survival and Development Revolution. “Look,” said Grant, “There’s no great mystery behind the reasons most children are dying. We know why they are dying. They’re dying from diseases we have vaccines to prevent. They’re dying from unsafe water we have the power to make clean. They’re dying from malaria carried by mosquitoes we can block.” And so UNICEF set out to reach as many children as possible with low-cost, high-impact interventions to keep them alive.

So what, specifically, do we mean by “preventable?” Let’s take measles. You and I were vaccinated against measles as kids. Never had measles, never will. But not everyone is so lucky. Measles”one of the most contagious diseases known to man”kills more than 600 children every day. It doesn’t have to be that way. The vaccine is cheap. It works. In fact, thanks to massive vaccination campaigns by UNICEF, the World Health Organization and other partners, measles deaths in Africa dropped by a stunning 91 percent between 2000 and 2006. We’re working towards a day when zero children die from measles.


vaccine3a-062568E.jpg
© UNICEF/ HQ06-2568/Giacomo Pirozzi
SOLOMON ISLANDS: A health worker immunizes six-month-old Ladi at Kakabona Clinic, located near Honiara, the capital, on Guadalcanal Island. UNICEF supports the clinic with vaccines and medical supplies.

As Adam Fifield wrote earlier this week, we’re all thrilled to learn that child mortality rates have, once again, dropped. You can’t imagine what news like this does for folks like us who are devoted to child survival. Fewer children are dying. In a word: whaahhoooooooo.

At UNICEF, we can’t think of the success of the child survival movement without thinking of James P. Grant. Jim Grant was Executive Director of UNICEF from 1980 to 1995 and was instrumental in launching what was then called the Child Survival and Development Revolution.

“Look,” said Grant, “There’s no great mystery behind the reasons most children are dying. We know why they are dying. They’re dying from diseases we have vaccines to prevent. They’re dying from unsafe water we have the power to make clean. They’re dying from malaria carried by mosquitoes we can block.” And so UNICEF set out to reach as many children as possible with low-cost, high-impact interventions to keep them alive.

So what, specifically, do we mean by “preventable?” Let’s take measles. You and I were vaccinated against measles as kids. Never had measles, never will. But not everyone is so lucky. Measles”one of the most contagious diseases known to man”kills more than 600 children every day. It doesn’t have to be that way. The vaccine is cheap. It works. In fact, thanks to massive vaccination campaigns by UNICEF, the World Health Organization and other partners, measles deaths in Africa dropped by a stunning 91 percent between 2000 and 2006. We’re working towards a day when zero children die from measles.


bednet1a-060726E.jpg
UNICEF/ HQ06-0726/Bruno Brioni
IVORY COAST: A UNICEF-supplied bed net protects a woman and her newborn son from malaria-bearing mosquitoes, in a health center in the central city of BouakÃ.

Another specific intervention that’s made a world of difference for kids: the insecticide-treated mosquito nets we mention often on this blog. Before I worked here, I didn’t know about these simple, brilliant malaria-reducers. By sleeping under an insecticide-treated bed net, children and their families can cut in half their chances of getting malaria. (Nets that protect you as you sleep are so effective because malaria mosquitoes prey upon people at night). Last year, UNICEF delivered 18 million nets around the world. We are also working towards a day when zero children die from malaria.

Jim Grant would be proud of our progress (alas, Grant died in 1995). But knowing we’re on the right track with child survival interventions means we have to push harder than ever to reach every single child. And to reach a day when zero children die of preventable causes. It can be done.

We believe in zero.

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