MSF pediatrician Kerstin Hanson plays with baby at the clinic in eastern Mali.
Twenty percent of all the babies born in the world each year—the equivalent of nearly five times the children born yearly in the United States—are not getting the basic vaccines they need to be protected from killer diseases, such as measles.
And that’s why Venetia Dearden traveled to West African nation of Mali with Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to see firsthand the importance of vaccines to families and the lengths to which they must go to get them. When MSF teams stage vaccination campaigns in the West African nation of Mali, mothers will come from hours away, sometimes days away.
In the first year of their life, children must receive vaccines five separate times. In certain parts of the world, it can be extremely difficult for children and their caregivers to come so often if they live far away from a vaccination point or can't afford the cost of transportation. As in many other countries, these women, who are overwhelmingly the stewards of their families when it comes to health issues, want the protection vaccines can provide them and their children against several potentially deadly diseases that plague the region.
In the best-case scenario, MSF and other agencies would bring the vaccines to them, wherever they lived, in whatever conditions. But this isn’t possible at present, because many of the vaccines available today are not tailored for the difficult environments in which they must be used. To give but one example: establishing and sustaining cold chain is very difficult in places where electricity is hard to come by, to say nothing of ice. That’s why MSF has been advocating for a global approach to vaccine development and dissemination that takes into account the conditions in the countries where these vaccines are most needed to half preventable deaths, as well as the particular strains of diseases found in various locations.