By Chizoba Wonodi, IVAC Nigeria Country Director and WAVA National Convener.
In March we celebrate International Women’s Day, when the world recognizes the achievements and contributions of women of all colors, creeds and credentials. This spirit of empowerment resonates in Nigeria, where the Women Advocates for Vaccine Access (WAVA) are equipping members with small grants to conduct advocacy for sustainable immunization financing.
WAVA is a cross-sectoral coalition of women and women-focused civil society organizations. Members span the length and breadth of the six geo-political zones of Nigeria. While addressing a diverse range of developmental issues, WAVA members make a commitment to advocating for immunization access for all women and children. I’m honored to serve as their national convener.
The first-ever small grants contest was designed to encourage WAVA members to develop and carry out bold, new and exciting strategies to galvanize action, specifically for vaccine financing at all levels. If the plan could get people to listen to our cause and act on it, the idea was considered—even if it sounded crazy.
We could not have anticipated the spectacular array of creative proposals when we launched the small grants program, on the heels of our inaugural investiture ceremony for WAVA Vaccine Champions in December 2016. Ideas ranged from engaging youth in immunization financing discussions to hosting weekly radio shows on immunization.
To provide each proposal a fair review, we assembled a crack team of internal and external reviewers in Abuja and Baltimore. Over a six-week period, five Abuja and Baltimore-based internal reviewers poured through the pages, weighing the pros and cons of one idea against its ability to contribute to our mission. Proposals that scored 70% or higher in the initial review were then sent to at least two out of the three external reviewers.
A well-deserved shout-out goes to our able and excellent external reviewers, Hon. Usman Mohammed, WAVA Champion extraordinaire; Mr. Edwin Ikhuoria, advocate par excellence; and Dr. Francis Ohanyido, jack of all trades and master of all.
Out of sixteen submissions, seven made it to the final round. From this crop, the reviewers chose the top three entries based on their average scores and a qualitative agreement in ranking by both internal and external reviewers. In the end, there were only three winners and I believe the reviewers made the best choices.
To all that participated, know that I am proud of the efforts you put forth in this round. I hope that in the subsequent rounds we will see the same level of enthusiasm—or even higher. Be assured you will get constructive feedback from us that you can use to improve your proposal and grant writing skills for other opportunities. Our unflinching commitment to the growth and success of our members demands that we don't just say, “Sorry, better luck next time.” Rather we feel obligated to give a thoughtful review of the strengths and weaknesses of your submissions.
Our vision is that WAVA members become not only top notch advocates, but also successful and sustainable organizations. Nigeria continues to need our help to ensure vaccine access for women and children everywhere.
By Dr. Kate O’Brien, Executive Director, International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC)
Yesterday we were saddened to learn that former President George H.W. Bush was hospitalized with pneumonia. While the majority of people affected by pneumonia in the US are adults, around the world each day this condition claims the lives of an estimated 2,500 children under age 5.
Back in September, when Secretary Hillary Clinton suspended her campaign due to pneumonia, I wrote about the under-recognized toll this illness takes on communities around the world. As we find ourselves on the eve of a new presidential administration, it’s imperative to repeat the message and remind policymakers of the common needs of families around the world.
Pneumonia, an infection of the lungs, is exceedingly common around the world, with an estimated 450 million cases annually. In the US, we have ready access to trained physicians with the know-how and equipment to make a diagnosis and, when necessary, we have antibiotics and oxygen therapy to treat illness. These interventions have been proven effective, and the vast majority of people who contract pneumonia in the US make a full recovery.
Sadly, this is not true everywhere. In impoverished countries, timely, appropriate, and affordable treatment is often not available, especially for young children whose course of illness can take a downturn very quickly. In parts of Africa and Asia resources are scarce, and HIV infections, crowding, and indoor air pollution are prevalent and put people at risk. The prevention measures we take for granted, such as vaccines and hand washing, are too often not available. The price of pneumonia in these countries is higher infection rates, more illness and, sadly, more deaths, especially in children younger than 5 years of age.
Over the past 15 years, public health professionals and policymakers have been able to assure significant progress. Vaccines to prevent the deadliest causes of pneumonia are rapidly being deployed in countries in most need—thanks to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and country governments. Gavi, to which the US government is a major contributor, makes it possible for low-income countries to buy and deploy tens of millions of doses of life-saving vaccines, including against pneumonia, to millions of children. As more children have access to vaccines and medicine to prevent and treat pneumonia, we see less disease, fewer lives lost, more families climbing out of poverty and fewer families thrown back into the downward cycle of poverty which is otherwise incurred simply by trying to get medical care to save their child’s life.
Yet, much work remains. More than 900,000 young children still lose their lives to pneumonia each year. These children need access to the same tools as our own children to prevent, diagnose, and treat this common illness.
More than anything else, we must put pneumonia on our collective radar as a global health problem that requires attention—not just when there’s a new media headline. How many people know that globally pneumonia is the leading cause of death for children under 5 years of age? Pneumonia is so common that it’s nearly invisible.
Can this change? Absolutely. We have the opportunity to raise the profile of this illness and reveal just how pervasive it is. We hope President Bush makes a speedy and full recovery. Meanwhile we continue to advocate for adequate resources for families, governments, and communities everywhere to prevent and treat this illness. What improves the lives of people in countries around the world is also good for the US. It’s simple: Hopeful, healthy communities create a world where we all thrive, including here at home.
Kate O’Brien, MD, MPH, is the Executive Director of the International Vaccine Access Center and Professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is a pediatric infectious disease physician, epidemiologist and vaccinologist.
By: Dignamartha Kakkanattu, Social Media & Communications Assistant, International Vaccine Access Center
During Thanksgiving in the U.S., much well-deserved gratitude goes to the obvious all-stars in our lives: family, friends, teachers. But one group that doesn’t seem to get enough thanks are child health advocates. During World Pneumonia Day on November 12, they broke the silence on pneumonia, the leading infectious killer of children under 5.
As an aspiring health advocate, I’ve had the opportunity to work with the Stop Pneumonia team at the International Vaccine Access Center to help turn up the volume. How? We created the Pneumonia Fumbler Challenge, which asked people to say the following tongue twister five times fast for the under-fives: Pretty please prevent pneumonia to protect precious lives.
Advocates, and children, who accepted the challenge lent their voices to the scores of children who have a high likelihood of catching and dying from pneumonia: the poorest of the poor in developing countries. In 2015, approximately 920,000 children died from pneumonia—ending more young lives than Zika, Ebola, malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV combined.
Among participants around the world were future public health professionals—my classmates—at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. They took on the Pneumonia Fumbler Challenge while attending a World Pneumonia Day reception co-hosted by the Child Health Society. Through a little confusion and lots of laughter, the students shed light on the need to stop pneumonia in order to improve child health globally.
We need more voices to bring attention to pneumonia, a disease so common that its deadly nature is overlooked by country leaders and policy makers. We need voices to ensure that protective and preventive interventions—such as breastfeeding, adequate nutrition, and vaccines—are available to children in developing countries. We need voices to educate health professionals and caregivers about identifying pneumonia in its early stages. We need voices to secure treatment measures, such as amoxicillin and oxygen therapy, in low-resource settings.
The Pneumonia Fumbler was just one fun way to remind the world that all children should have resources to achieve good health and avoid preventable diseases, such as pneumonia. This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful to everyone who participated, and for the countless other campaigns and events advocates organized. Thank you for your voice—and the opportunity to amplify it worldwide.
Dignamartha Kakkanattu is an MSPH student at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health working on pneumonia advocacy at the International Vaccine Access Center.
By Dr. Kate O’Brien, Executive Director, International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC)
Everyone may get 15 minutes of fame, however, for common illnesses such as pneumonia headlines are scarce. While Secretary Clinton’s pneumonia diagnosis is viewed by most through a political lens, the candidate’s announcement has also sparked a curiosity about an illness contracted by millions every year.
Pneumonia, an infection of the lungs, is exceedingly common around the world with an estimated 450 million cases annually. In the US, about a million people seek hospital care for pneumonia with a cost to the health system of more than $10 billion each year according to the American Thoracic Society.
While the cost of pneumonia in the US is staggering, in too many countries the price is even higher. In the US, we have ready access to trained physicians with the know-how and equipment to make a diagnosis and when necessary, antibiotics and oxygen to treat illness. While some may balk at the cost, these interventions have been proven effective, and the vast majority of people who contract pneumonia make a full recovery. Sadly, this is not true everywhere.
In parts of Africa and Asia resources are scarce, and HIV infections, crowding, and indoor air pollution are prevalent and put people at risk. Also, the prevention and treatment measures we take for granted, such as vaccines and hand washing, are too often not available. The price of pneumonia in these countries is higher infection rates, more illness and, sadly, more deaths, especially in children younger than five years of age.
For most of my career I have been engaged in the fight against pneumonia. I have worked with nonprofits, governments and businesses to help families everywhere have access to the tools they need to fight this illness. We have made considerable progress. Vaccines to prevent the most deadly causes of pneumonia are rapidly being deployed in countries in most need—thanks to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and country governments. As more children have access to vaccines and medicine to prevent and treat pneumonia, we see less disease and fewer lives lost. Yet, much work remains. More than 900,000 young children still lose their lives to pneumonia each year, these children need access to the same tools as our children, to prevent, diagnose and treat this common illness.
There is also a need to invest in innovations that will help those who contract pneumonia in the US and around the world. For example, pneumonia can have bacterial, viral, or occasionally fungal causes. Currently, there is no reliable test that will identify the cause of the infection in every case. The conventional method involves imaging, bloodwork, or cultures that are inconclusive in more cases than not. Physicians typically treat with antibiotics in case the infection is bacterial, but often the pathogen remains unknown. A test to identify the pathogen would help health workers everywhere to treat pneumonia appropriately and reduce unwarranted antibiotic use, this will help to address issues of antimicrobial resistance which threaten to undermine our ability to treat infections.
More than anything else, there is a need to put pneumonia on our collective radar as a public health problem that requires attention. Last year, pneumonia took more young lives than Zika, Ebola, malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV combined. Globally pneumonia is the leading cause of death for children under five years of age. Yet, pneumonia flies under the radar; it is so common that it is nearly invisible.
Can this change? Absolutely. This week, pneumonia is in the headlines and people are talking about their experience (or their parent’s or their child’s) with the illness. While pneumonia’s 15 minutes of fame may be about to run out, the chance to make a difference remains.
Kate O’Brien, MD, MPH is the Executive Director of the International Vaccine Access Center and Professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is a pediatric infectious disease physician, epidemiologist and vaccinologist.
In celebration of World Immunization Week, we asked some of our staff to reflect on their careers and why immunization is a critical tool in public health.
Here’s what inspires them:
What was the moment you realized you wanted to work in the immunization/vaccines field?
“It clicked for me when I was taking care of kids who had Hib meningitis during the late 1980's right after the vaccine was starting to be used in the United States.” – Kate O’Brien, Executive Director
“While serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa, I worked with the local Ministry of Health's National Immunization Days for Polio. I spent a week traveling out to remote villages vaccinating children and providing Vitamin A supplements to prevent Polio.” – Matt Coles, Senior Program & Contract Analyst
“After completing my pediatric training I worked in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia as a pediatrician for two years and saw many children die of vaccine-preventable diseases, most notably measles and meningitis.” – Bill Moss, Deputy Director
What do you find rewarding about working in global health? In immunization/vaccines? "Knowing how much of an impact vaccines can have on every family. Many families will never know the devastation of these preventable illnesses and knowing I contributed to that, even in a small way is HUGE for me.” – Lois Privor-Dumm, Director of Policy, Advocacy & Communications
“Being a positive part of a global community.” – Diane Coraggio, Research Associate
“Working in global health has allowed me to understand the root causes of poverty and disease that plague the majority of the world, and do so inequitably, and has provided me with the confidence and skills I need to contribute to changing the current situation and addressing those root causes.” – Olivia Cohen, Research Associate
“Immunization programs target healthy people and aim to keep them healthy. What better way contribute to public health?” – Kyla Hayford, Research Associate
What are you most proud of in your work at IVAC or in immunization/vaccines?
“I am always proud when the pediatricians and public health experts we have worked with advocate for change and speak up for needed interventions in effective ways - I love seeing a little bit of training and empowerment turn into something much bigger and better than we would have ever thought of!” – Lois Privor-Dumm, Director of Policy, Advocacy & Communications.
“I'm most proud of the impact our work has----it has tangibly and meaningfully contributed to actually moving the needle on getting vaccines to the people and places where they are most needed.” – Kate O’Brien, Executive Director
“It's especially rewarding when governments and policymakers use our work to make decisions around vaccines. “– Brian Wahl, PhD Candidate
What is something about immunization/vaccines that you wish more people knew?
“Vaccines are by far one of the most cost-effective public health solutions!” – Diane Coraggio, Research Associate
“Immunizations are the best buy out there-----there isn't anything that does a better job of preserving health and enhancing life.” – Kate O’Brien, Executive Director
What do you find most challenging about your vaccine/immunization work?
“There is so much to do and so little time! The vaccine world is a complex space and this field needs the best, the brightest, and all of our efforts to make accelerated progress.” – Kate O’Brien, Executive Director
“One of the most challenging things about successful vaccine work is that it can undermine itself. The disease goes away and people no longer understand how important vaccines are and they played in reducing the disease burden.” – Bill Moss, Deputy Director
What do think is the biggest challenge to closing the immunization gap?
“I think the focus needs to be more on the hard to reach with an understanding that where the greatest burden is (often where health systems are weakest) is truly the priority. There have been some examples of successful programs, countries, communities and the global health community need to focus on all aspects of strengthening immunization programs - both on the demand and supply side.” – Lois Privor-Dumm, Director of Policy, Advocacy & Communications.
“Delivery, delivery, delivery and optimizing the ways in which we use the vaccines we have.” – Kate O’Brien, Executive Director
“Reaching populations in areas of continuous conflict zones, refugee camps, and increasingly in areas of recent natural disasters.” – Olivia Cohen, Research Associate
“Improving accountability and governance in many developing countries and integrating immunization with other primary healthcare services will help close the gap.” – Brian Wahl, PhD Candidate