Column: Vaccines provide healthy life for millions of children overseas

Published Dec. 23, 2014

The infant starts crying as he takes his first breath of outside air. The cord is clamped and cut, and he's handed to mom for skin-to-skin bonding time. Then he's handed off to the pediatric team for a quick examination. During his first few days of life he receives the hepatitis B vaccine, and later his routine vaccinations. Immunizations protect him from life-threatening diseases. We take this for granted in the United States, but a child across the globe may be dying right now from one of those very diseases because vaccinations are not available in his village.

I am Robyn Schickler, a resident physician in obstetrics and gynecology, a graduate of the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine. I have delivered hundreds of babies who will live a healthy life, protected from these life-threatening diseases. But babies all over the world are not lucky enough to have this protection. Of the 6.3 million kids under five who die each year, 1 in 4 dies due to pneumonia or diarrhea even as vaccinations against pneumococcal disease and rotavirus, the causes of pneumonia and diarrhea, are now delivered economically in many countries by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

I am Jerry Trotter, a first-year medical student at the USF Morsani College of Medicine and a former Marine. In 2005, I was stationed in Djibouti, Africa, helping provide security for a U.S. base. In my free time, I explored Djibouti City and volunteered at orphanages. Here, shoes were a luxury and infectious diseases, like HIV, were commonplace. It was heart-wrenching to see the contrast to our medical system and how their limited resources adversely affected the people of Djibouti. In the orphanages, illnesses such as diarrhea were common and not all children recovered, especially infants. These experiences helped steer me toward medicine and advocacy.

I became interested in RESULTS, a nonpartisan citizens lobby to end poverty, and learned how Gavi's work directly benefits children similar to those in the Djiboutian orphanages. The work they do is inspiring. Although I am not yet able to provide medical care, I feel by helping raise awareness of Gavi I am improving the health and well-being of children like the ones in Djibouti.

Gavi is an international, public/private partnership; it is a vaccination program that supports low-income countries in delivering vaccines to the poorest of children. Since 2002, Gavi has increased access to vaccines, saving 6 million lives. Now Gavi has a plan to immunize 300 million more children by 2020, thereby saving 5 million more lives. Gavi not only provides vaccinations but makes a lasting impact on the poorest of communities.

Because of Gavi's help in building routine vaccination systems in these communities, more than 20 countries are projected to graduate from Gavi financing altogether by 2020. This means they will be providing vaccinations and vaccination delivery to their own citizens without outside help because of the foundation built by Gavi. The low-income countries for which the vaccines are provided must match a portion of the cost of each vaccine supported by Gavi, and that share increases as their economy grows. By 2020, the projected shared cost by donors such as the United States is expected to decrease from 80 percent of the total to less than 60 percent.

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Gavi will hold a funding replenishment conference in January in Berlin. President Barack Obama has made a personal commitment to helping end preventable child deaths, and we ask him to fulfill that promise at this conference by pledging $250 million a year for four years. This is in line with other donor nations, within our means, and keeps us integral to Gavi's success. We must ensure that whether a child lives or dies does not depend on where that child lives.

The role of a physician is simple but sacred: We are responsible for healing. As doctors, it is our responsibility to advocate for those in dire need of medical services and to provide insight on ways to help others. This goal is aligned with the work of RESULTS and Gavi to give the chance of a healthy life to millions of children worldwide.

Every child deserves a fifth birthday.

Dr. Robyn Schickler is a graduate of the USF Morsani College of Medicine and a resident at Tampa General Hospital. Jerry Trotter is a first-year student at the USF Morsani College of Medicine. Both volunteer with RESULTS, a nonpartisan citizens lobby to create the public and political will to end poverty. They wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

Since 2002, Gavi has increased access to vaccines, saving 6 million lives. Now Gavi has a plan to immunize 300 million more children by 2020, thereby saving 5 million more lives.