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In the UK we are fortunate to have access to a well-constructed vaccination programme from birth. This programme offers children protection from extremely virulent and potent diseases like measles, diphtheria, Meningitis C, and many others. As a result, the incidence of these diseases in the UK is extremely low, and public health as a whole is vastly improved. Similarly elderly people who may need an extra boost to their body’s natural defences are provided with regular flu jabs, a treatment which spares them from an illness which can be particularly unpleasant for their age group.

Other places around the world can struggle with vaccination, and children are left with potentially lethal infections. In this article we look at commitments to improving worldwide vaccination and how these endeavours can benefit people abroad and here in the UK.

Facts about global vaccination

While developed countries have established vaccination regimes, at least three million children a year are killed by infections that would otherwise be prevented by access to vaccinations. At present, despite the best efforts of global health initiatives, at least 30 million new born children are not able to access vaccinations.

Two thirds of all the children born and raised in a large number of developing countries (about 50) are not given any form of vaccination and are therefore susceptible to a broad range of infections. Moreover because many of these countries lack the needed healthcare infrastructure, these children are likely to suffer severely at the hands of infections that are not a concern in other parts of the world. The chances of a child contracting an illness that would otherwise be preventable by vaccination is 10 times higher in many parts of the world.

These are some basic facts that illustrate the huge disparity in vaccination practices across the world. Many countries simply do not have the resources to offer their children the protection of vaccination, and when compounded by poor healthcare services and living conditions, diseases that are not a concern for us here in the UK become widespread and affect countless lives every year.

Benefits of global vaccination initiatives

While it may be easy to think that vaccination in other countries should not be a concern for us, there are a number of benefits to global vaccination schemes that translate to improved health here in the UK.

Global vaccinations can effectively eliminate diseases from the repertoire of infections we can potentially suffer. If enough people are vaccinated against a particular disease, then the spread of said illness can decrease to the point where a vaccination programme is no longer needed. At this stage the disease is described as eradicated or eliminated. This has many obvious benefits to healthcare in the UK as the resources expended on maintaining a vaccination programme can be diverted elsewhere.

Addressing extremely contagious diseases spreading in other parts of the world with vaccination also prevents their spread to the UK. This is particularly important as sometimes of pathogen (disease causing agents like viruses and bacteria) are susceptible to genetic changes called mutations which can alter their behaviour and make them even more contagious. These mutations are more likely to occur if these illnesses are left unchecked and untreated as populations of pathogens thrive. By participating in global vaccination initiatives we take an important step towards preventing the development and spread of more radical pathogens.

Who is responsible for worldwide vaccinations?

There are some organisations specially devised to organise and arrange vaccination programmes in parts of the world sorely in need of immunisation. Great examples are the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF, which work to increase awareness, raise funds, and organise vaccination programmes where they are needed most.

In 1999 a number of wealthy philanthropists contributed to begin the GAVI Alliance (The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation), which works towards the goal of providing every child in the world with vaccinations against preventable diseases. GAVI includes UNICEF and WHO, but also involves a number of other industrial elements and charities like The World Bank Group, The Rockefeller Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the IFPMA (International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations.

The GAVI Alliance’s efforts have proven extremely successful, and the number of deaths from preventable diseases like polio, diphtheria, tuberculosis, and others has been halved since its foundation.

Ultimately the responsibility of providing for people sorely in need of vaccination comes down to every country and organisation able to contribute in some way to these efforts.

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