Leila Nimatallah

Leila Nimatallah
Senior Programme Officer, Advocacy, GAVI

8 Feb

“I always bring my children in on time for their vaccines. I know how important that is for keeping them healthy,” said Misael Amador as he sat in the waiting room at a public hospital in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, holding his four-year-old daughter, Karen Maria on his lap. “I am proud that I am never late to bring them in.”

This sense of pride in ensuring children’s health could be felt everywhere we went in Honduras last week—from the Minister of Health to the health monitors who regularly travel out to rural communities (without pay) to check that children are up to date on their immunisations.

Somehow, this small nation, burdened with deep poverty and violent crime, has achieved what most others (including the United States) have not: a near-perfect vaccination coverage rate. This means fewer child deaths because immunisations have saved the lives of more children than any other medical intervention in the last 50 years.

I had the honour of accompanying members of the United Nations Foundation’s Shot@Life Campaign and six congressional staffers to view Honduras’ national immunisation programme, and I learned that the public health success story of Honduras is directly related to the deep commitment and strong teamwork of everyone involved in the programme.

Back in 2009, my organisation, the GAVI Alliance, paid for immunisations in Honduras to prevent the leading cause of diarrhoea, which is one of the two biggest killers of children worldwide. Two years after the rotavirus vaccine was rolled out, GAVI financed Honduras’ rollout of pneumococcal vaccine as well, taking aim at the other major cause of death for children under five, pneumonia. But buying vaccines at an affordable and sustainable price is only part of the story.

Delivering vaccines, which must be refrigerated from the moment they are developed until the time they are administered, is an incredibly complex task—especially in a place like Honduras, where 45 percent of the rural population lacks reliable electricity. It takes all stakeholders— PAHO, the CDC, the US Agency for International Development, the Honduran Expanded Program on Immunization, doctors, nurses, volunteers, civil society, teachers and parents—working in concert to achieve this incredible success.

Here in the US, advocates of the Shot@Life Campaign are bringing this inspirational story to American citizens and leaders to make the case for why our country should continue its investment and leadership in global health, vaccines and organiSations like GAVI.

In April 2012, Shot@Life will roll out nationally. Everyday citizens, who have been inspired by success stories like Honduras’ and who have been trained to take action to make a difference, will be reaching out to engage their families, their communities and their leaders to educate them and raise awareness about the power of vaccines.

To prepare for this launch, the campaign will be gathering a powerful group of committed Americans together this week in Washington, D.C., to strategiSe and design their efforts to bring the story of vaccines’ impact to the masses. Once Americans learn more about what vaccines can do, they will want to be a child’s shot at life.


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