MOROGORO, United Republic of Tanzania (December 10, 2012) — As the mercury crept up to the upper range of the 90s and the humidity approached 100%, Upendo Philip, 24, and her 1-month-old baby Ustant crammed onto a motorbike with a driver, a cousin and her baby. They made their way to the Melela Health Facility, 15 miles away from their tiny village of Meleo, in Morogoro Region, 124 miles south of the nation’s capital.
Ustant’s and her mother’s adventure was to get Ustant’s second vaccination, which would protect her against diseases that might take her life away in a puff—diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B and haemophilus influenza type B.
In the meantime, global leaders in the vaccine world were meeting in Dar es Salaam, as part of the GAVI Alliance governing board. They were discussing how the Alliance can continue to support countries with the introduction of new vaccines and by strengthening immunization systems in an effort to reach the most difficult-to-reach children, too—that one child in five who will never be vaccinated—the 'fifth child.'
Since it was set up in 2000, the GAVI Alliance, which includes UNICEF, the World Health Organization, The World Bank, civil society organizations, the vaccine industry, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and others, has contributed to saving more than 5.5 million lives, with an additional 370 million children immunized with GAVI support. GAVI has committed a total of $7.9 billion until 2016 in developing countries to boost immunization.
Ustant’s vaccines were purchased through UNICEF’s Supply Division in Copenhagen, Denmark. UNICEF is the world’s largest purchaser of vaccines and one of the most important global players in the vaccine marketplace.
Like many families in the United Republic of Tanzania, Ustant’s family is poor—but she has several things playing in her favor. For one, her mother is educated—Philip completed the sixth form and speaks English. Studies show that a mother who is educated is much more likely to have children who get their vaccinations and much more likely to have children who are educated, improving their chances for gainful employment.
And Ustant, unlike her mother, has a birth certificate, and a legal identity, which will protect her from exploitation and open more doors for her.
Last, and of critical importance—Ustant’s government continues to push for improvements in the healthcare system.
Today, the United Republic of Tanzania introduced two new vaccines—pneumococcal and rotavirus—which help prevent pneumonia and diarrhea, respectively. These two diseases are the main causes of death of children under five, so the vaccines represent another huge step forward for the children of the United Republic of Tanzania.
Back at the rural health center, Philip lines up with a teeming crowd of 100 other mothers, grandmothers and sisters of babies who await their moment with the health worker. Most of the women are Masai, and come from the surrounding rural areas.
Some of the women have come because they know it is a routine immunization day, but others have received a special SMS alert on their cell phones to remind them that they need to bring their baby.
Philip is the fifth wife of her husband, who herds cattle for a living. The trip to the health center has taken up precious resources, but she smiles when asked about the expense and effort of the journey.
“This is what I want for my baby.”