Below you can read my article in this month’s Parliament Magazine supplement. I argue that whilst Europe enjoys the health benefits of immunisation, the EU must now work harder to ensure developing countries can do the same.
In the western world we take for granted that none of us will die from diseases like polio, diphtheria, measles, whooping cough or yellow fever. This happy state of affairs is thanks in large part to long running immunisation programmes and widespread vaccination across Europe. The same cannot be said for the developing world, however, where many people do not have access to these life saving vaccines.
In a recent visit to the European parliament, Bill Gates, who has campaigned tirelessly on this issue, told us that the world is missing 20 per cent of its children. The reason is straightforward: too many families do not receive access to immunisations against vaccine preventable diseases. The problem is inevitably most acute in developing countries. In Nigeria the number of vaccine preventable deaths climbs to a massive 60 per cent.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that around 1.5 million deaths among children under five years old were due to diseases that could have been prevented by routine vaccination. This represents 17 per cent of the total global mortality in children under five years of age.
The EU, through the member states and the European commission, funds a number of excellent organisations which help to increase the number of children being immunised in developing countries. Organisations like the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) have helped to expand immunisation coverage in some of the world’s poorest countries. Their work has meant that 326 million children have been immunised and over 5.5 million future deaths have been prevented. But despite GAVI’s efforts, and those of other organisations, over 1.5 million children continue to die each year from diseases which would have been prevented by vaccination.
Smallpox was eradicated world-wide in 1977, while polio is almost there. Between 2000 and 2008, measles deaths were reduced by 85 per cent and maternal and neonatal tetanus has almost been eliminated as a public health disease.
The European commission will have contributed over €86m by the end of March this year towards the global vaccination programme. These contributions derive from both the European development fund and the development cooperation instrument. While it is very good news that the commission is taking vaccination seriously, there is scope for much more to be done.
Money is urgently needed for vaccinations. For the price of a cup of coffee, a child can be vaccinated against five of the major childhood killers, including haemophilus influenzae B, diphtheria and tetanus. A better health outlook also brings economic benefits by lowering the burden on overstretched healthcare systems and freeing up for social provision such as education, as well as cutting down the indirect costs such as time off work to look after sick children.
In order to gain a commitment to vaccination from the European parliament, I, along with fellow MEPs Veronique De Keyser, Sean Kelly, Bill Newton-Dunn and Marie-Christine Vergiat, have launched written declaration 4/2012. It urges the European commission to continue its work in reducing the number of vaccine preventable deaths in its future external actions. I have previously blogged about the written declaration here.
I urge MEPs to sign this written declaration. Vaccination is crucial for all children in order that they may live the lives they deserve. Most of us in the EU will have benefitted from vaccinations for polio, diphtheria, tetanus and many more diseases which were killers in previous generations. It is now time we made sure developing countries are given the same chance.
My written declaration states that “disease prevalence is a barrier to achieving sustainable socio-economic development” and, with 1.7 million dying from vaccine preventable diseases every year, it urges the European commission to continue and increase its support for immunisation programmes. It must receive the backing of the majority of deputies (by 10 May 2012) before it is forwarded to parliament president Martin Schulz.