Maureen Wandawa wants other mothers to have the same confidence she does in vaccines. Before the pandemic, the nurse and midwife at a rural health clinic in Lumuli village in eastern Uganda found an effective way to build that trust: leading by example. When speaking with waiting mothers in her rural clinic, she would invite everyone to come and watch her vaccinate her own 1-year-old son, Sadat.
“Many mothers are afraid of the vaccine, so sometimes I immunize my own son in front of them so they can see that they can trust the vaccine,” she says.
Maureen is one of millions of medical professionals all over the world dedicated to keeping us safe and healthy – whether it’s from COVID-19, or routine, preventable diseases, and health problems. She’s showing she is willing to go the extra mile to ensure as many people as possible benefit from proven health care tools like vaccinations.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that immunization prevents 2 million to 3 million deaths each year. Global measles mortality has declined by 73%, and we are closer than ever to eradicating wild polio, largely because effective vaccines are widely available.
COVID-19 PUTTING PROGRESS AT RISK
However, this progress is fragile. WHO recently found that 19.7 million children under the age of one year did not receive basic vaccines, mostly because of a lack of access. And COVID-19 is making things worse, as routine immunization programs, often involving volunteer health workers going house to house, are suspended. It’s jeopardizing progress we’ve made against vaccine-preventable diseases. The pandemic is also taking the biggest toll on people already marginalized, like poor, rural families, highlighting how global health systems are underprepared and unequal.
Up to 80 million children are at risk of preventable diseases like measles and polio because these vital immunization programs have been suspended during the pandemic. It will take strong investments and continued dedication from health care heroes like Maureen to get back on track with immunization services in communities and expand coverage to vulnerable and marginalized people everywhere.
STRONGER WHEN WE WORK TOGETHER
When immunization programs resume, and when effective vaccines and treatments against COVID-19 become available, it will be imperative that communities work together to make them available for all who need them, and to build confidence in them, as Maureen Wandawa has done in her clinic in Uganda.
Although it is hard to believe, childhood vaccines arrived in the remote villages of eastern Uganda only in recent years. Many children have been paralyzed and have died from infectious diseases – diseases that could easily be prevented with immunizations. Parents in Lumuli village desperately want to protect their children. But because vaccines were new and misconceptions about them persist, parents need help overcoming their concerns.
Maureen Wandawa’s work is proof that communities are stronger when they work together to build trust. Through collaboration we can deliver on the promise of health for all, no matter where someone may live.
We are all safer and stronger when we #UniteforHealth.