04/29/2016 03:02 EDT | Updated 04/30/2017 05:12 EDT

When Diseases Spread Faster Than Vaccines, Children Pay The Price

When the only thing standing in the way of saving a child's life is a lack of money, we need to collectively pause and reflect on our priorities as a global society.

Last year, a funding shortfall to one of the most successful global health programs in history, meant that 40 million children were left unprotected from one of the most contagious diseases the world has ever known: Measles.

Investments in the measles vaccine are considered one of the best buys in global health. Yet we are still coming up short and failing the world's most vulnerable children.

A leading cause of death among children worldwide, measles affects 20 million people each year, and complications from the disease kills 315 children every day.

Those statistics may be shocking. But even more shocking is the fact that we have had a safe, effective, and cheap vaccine against measles for more than 50 years.


We know how to protect against measles and we have the tools to do it. In fact, at less than $2 each in low-income countries, the measles vaccine is one of the cheapest to deliver. Investments in the measles vaccine are considered one of the best buys in global health. Yet we are still coming up short and failing the world's most vulnerable children.

UNICEF vaccinates 40 per cent of the world's children from a multitude of deadly illnesses and co-founded the Measles & Rubella Initiative (M&RI). This initiative has been working since 2001 to protect almost two billion children across 88 countries through vaccination. The results have been nothing short of remarkable.

Between 2000 and 2014, we've seen a 79 per cent reduction in global measles deaths due to large-scale vaccination campaigns. That equates to 17.1 million deaths prevented, and most of these in countries where children have poor access to medical care and where options for treatment would be limited should they contract the disease.


Canada has played a key role in making that happen. In total, Canada has contributed nearly $47 million to the Measles & Rubella Initiative since 2002, and has been an outspoken leader in the effort to eliminate measles completely.

And, by matching funds donated by UNICEF supporters in a major drive last year, the Government of Canada will help with the purchase of measles-rubella vaccines for nearly 300,000 boys and girls in Haiti. This will support the Expanded Programme on Immunization in Haiti, promoting quality health care services for children and improving routine vaccination coverage to at least 90 per cent coverage in the country.

The last week of April is World Immunization Week, a chance for all of us to remember the more than 1.5 million children around the world who die annually from diseases that can be prevented by immunization, and to help refocus public attention on the importance of vaccination for all -- particularly those who are consistently excluded.

Through the Global Vaccine Action Plan, UNICEF and our partners have outlined clear goals for expanding immunization coverage globally: for every country to ensure that at a national level, 90 per cent of children under one year of age are reached through routine immunization, and at least 80 per cent in every district or equivalent administrative unit, by the year 2020.


But it's going to take concerted effort on everyone's part to get there, including Canada's. The Government of Canada recognizes the value of immunization in saving lives, which is why our country has a long history of support towards eradicating polio, maternal and neonatal tetanus, and measles, to name a few.

Building on this history, UNICEF is calling on the Government of Canada to support the eradication of measles through a $75 million contribution to M&RI over five years.

This will help save millions of children's lives.

You can't put a price tag on that.

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