Outbreaks: A Natural or Manmade Disaster?

As a public health policy student, I spent the spring semester heavily entrenched in research on vaccination policies in California. During the Disneyland measles outbreak in December 2014, vaccines took over the media as more and more cases of measles arose. This outbreak was not a result of a lack of resources or access, but a manmade disaster. Despite education and availability, vaccination rates are dropping due to misinformed parents’ personal beliefs. The health community pondered why on earth, barring any health restriction, a parent would put their child at risk of a disease that is highly avoidable.

Upon arriving at the WHA68 for my first Assembly, this question buzzed in my head. Sitting in on the Polio Eradication Meeting with delegations from Cameroon, Chad, Equatorial New Guinea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria, and Somalia, I listened as these countries spoke of their accomplishments in vaccination programs. International NGOS such as GAVI the Vaccine Alliance, UNICEF, WHO, and a number of governments, including the United States, have invested vast funds into eradicating diseases such as polio. These countries pled for more aid to rid them of endemics that disproportionately jeopardize those born in developing countries.

Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria all converge at Lake Chad, where the wild polio virus runs rampant. Polio does not respect borders; it travels fast and loose. When an outbreak occurs, these four countries scramble to contain the virus before it reaches other countries. While UNICEF and WHO committed to a five year campaign to end polio in this region, that’s five years that children in remote areas may be left vulnerable.

Somalia urged the international community to help increase their vaccination coverage; right now it falls just under 50%. How is it that the United States, a developed country that prides itself on being the world’s superpower, posts similar vaccinations rates in some pockets of the country to that of a developing nation with such meager resources?

If we do not increase vaccination efforts, we are intensifying the manmade disaster already created in the U.S. As public health practitioners, we need to follow Charlotte Whitton’s sage words that “when one must, one can.” We must, and can, protect the health of children worldwide, and in turn, the health of global society.