During a visit to Freetown, Sierra Leone, Caryl M. Stern, President and CEO of UNICEF USA, spoke with a local woman holding a baby at a medical clinic. The woman told Stern, “I lost my first child to tetanus. A boy. He was only days old. I did not think I would recover from the pain. I got the vaccination because I came to the clinic with my friend who was getting one. G-d blessed me with another baby. This one is healthy. I gave birth to him four weeks ago.”
“There it was,” Stern later explained. “The difference a vaccination campaign can make. It wasn’t just a bunch of numbers. It was an individual woman whose baby would now live.”
Until recently, 49,000 newborns and numerous mothers died from maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT) annually. Consistent focus and funding have reduced deaths to 34,000 in 2016. This drop in infant mortality represents significant progress, but there remains much work to be done to save precious lives from this entirely preventable disease in the 17 countries where MNT still has not been eliminated.
Vaccines save millions of lives each year by helping those who are vaccinated develop immunity to highly contagious diseases as well as diseases spread by insects, contaminated food and water, and soil-dwelling bacteria.
Since LDS Charities began providing vaccination support in 2003, 52 countries have benefited from LDS Charities–sponsored immunization assistance. While LDS Charities does not directly administer vaccines, we are proud to support our partners in the global effort to reach and protect every child against vaccine-preventable death. This is particularly important in countries that struggle to offer accessible, routine vaccination services to all citizens.
LDS Charities provides funding and resources to purchase vaccines and train health care workers, raise awareness about vaccination campaigns, monitor disease outbreaks, and educate communities about the importance of immunization.
“Our belief that all people are members of God’s family leads us to try to follow Jesus Christ’s example to serve anyone, anywhere, to relieve suffering wherever we can,” said Jean B. Bingham, General Relief Society President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at a UNICEF panel discussion in 2016. “Reducing the number of lives lost to preventable diseases through immunization is a way to lift and bless children no matter where they live.”
LDS Charities also collaborates with partner organizations to address clean water, sanitation, and food security and nutrition needs in developing and war-torn countries, but these efforts alone are not enough to stop the spread of all diseases. Vaccines help the body create immunity to deadly viruses and bacteria, thus preventing the spread of many diseases that cannot be controlled by sanitation and hygiene alone.
Various international organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) state that vaccines are the most efficient and cost-effective health interventions. According to UNICEF, almost one third of deaths among children under the age of five are preventable by vaccines. Many childhood deaths from preventable diseases occur in countries that do not have sufficient medical infrastructure to provide routine vaccines and medical services for their citizens.
Our global immunization partners like UNICEF; WHO; and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, collaborate with governments to identify and address gaps in immunization coverage and services. The support of international partners enables countries to address urgent vaccine needs while also strengthening their health system infrastructure. This allows countries to administer a routine immunization program in the future so the countries can provide for their own citizens without outside assistance.