Inconvenient or deadly? When health is a question of access

June 14, 2018 by PATH

Two female health workers carrying a vaccine cooler walk toward a boat in the water

Health workers transport pneumonia and rotavirus vaccines across Tanzania, a country with a vaccine coverage rate of more than 90%. Photo: PATH/Doune Porter.

Dr. Namala Mkopi grew used to long days at the National Hospital in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Then the country’s introduction of pneumonia and rotavirus vaccines changed everything.

At the National Hospital in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Dr. Namala Mkopi grew accustomed to long days of triaging several critically ill children at once. He’d swap oxygen cylinders in short supply from one pneumonia patient to the other and place more than one diarrhea patient in the same bed due to overcrowding. Then in 2013, the country added pneumonia and rotavirus vaccines into its national immunization program.

Two years after the vaccines arrived, he said, “We do not struggle that way anymore. In the diarrhea ward, there are days when I see only one child, and my colleagues can't believe it.”

Preventing children from getting sick in the first place in settings where treatment can be difficult to access is what makes vaccines one of the strongest public health investments. From Dr. Mkopi’s perspective, “Yes, there have been other health interventions that have made an impact, but why this big of a change within two years? It tells me that the pneumonia and rotavirus vaccines are doing what they're supposed to be doing.”

Pneumonia and diarrhea are the leading killers of children worldwide, but they're so common that they lack the urgency of a headline. Malaria rounds out the trifecta, causing more than 400,000 deaths a year. Many of the most pressing illnesses facing women and children thrive in crowded or unsanitary environments and are compounded by the effects of malnutrition and seasonal disruptions due to climate change. Access to basic healthcare often decides whether these illnesses are merely inconvenient to your daily life, or deadly.

Only in the poorest parts of the world do children die and suffer repeated infections of pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria, and this is what guides PATH’s Center for Vaccine Innovation and Access (CVIA) priorities: tackling infectious threats that are responsible for the highest number of preventable deaths among children and women in low-resource settings.

“Only in the poorest parts of the world do children die and suffer repeated infections of pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria, and this is what guides PATH’s Center for Vaccine Innovation and Access priorities.”

Natural market forces need a boost to focus on the needs of the most vulnerable; vaccines for these common killers are either not an investment priority or, if available, are too expensive. CVIA is rising to the challenge by working through public-private partnerships that catalyze donor commitments and by providing technical support to developing-country vaccine manufacturers to boost vaccine supply and lower prices. In return for PATH’s technical and funding contributions, vaccine developers commit to pricing and/or supply strategies that guarantee affordability and availability of vaccines where they are needed most. And when the rubber meets the road, literally, our expertise helps strengthen health systems and build sturdy policy and delivery frameworks to ensure coverage in the hardest-to-reach places. The most effective vaccine in the world is useless if it can’t reach the child who needs it most.

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