One World Vision: Close the Gap in health poverty to save children’s lives

Millions of children die every year because they do not have basic health care and protection, like vaccines to save them from diseases. Health poverty robs them of their chance at life.  

As leaders prepare to meet at the UN General Assembly in New York, World Vision and its partners are calling on them to close the health poverty gap by investing in services such as immunisation to help the world’s poorest and most at-risk children. 

Although great progress has been made to prevent child deaths since 2000, 6.9 million children still do not live to see their fifth birthday. One in five of all these children die from diseases that can be prevented with vaccines. Globally, more than 22 million children do not have access even to the most basic package of childhood vaccines.

The GAVI Alliance has led the way in supporting the introduction of life-saving vaccines to reduce this death toll on children. Since 2000, the Alliance’s support has helped more than 70 of the world’s poorest countries prevent over five and a half million deaths -- but we still have a long way to go. 

We are currently making a great effort to tackle the two biggest killers of children under the age of five: pneumonia and diarrhoea, which together account for a staggering one third of child deaths.   

Streptococcus pneumoniae, commonly known as pneumococcal disease, is the leading cause of pneumonia: the World Health Organization estimates that more than 500,000 young children die each year from the infection, with the vast majority of these deaths occurring in developing countries. Every year, an estimated 450,000 children under the age of five also die as a result of severe diarrhoea caused by rotavirus infection – that’s nearly 1,200 every day . 

This is shocking because both diseases can be prevented through childhood immunisation. In the past three years, GAVI support has increased the number of developing countries that can protect children with both pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines. 

The fact that many children still remain unvaccinated as a result of barriers to health services access represents one of our greatest challenges. 

As one of the most cost effective health interventions, immunisation can go a long way towards closing the gap on child poverty and health access in developing countries, from Kenya to Kyrgyzstan. Protecting children from disease means that they are more likely to complete their education and become productive members of society. Not having to worry about paying for medical bills or taking their children to a clinic allows parents to work and save, helping communities to grow and countries work towards their own development. 

If we are to finish what we started with the Millennium Development Goals, we must recognise that inequality in healthcare is a major obstacle to further reducing child mortality and combating diseases such as malaria and HIV.

By supporting this campaign to push world leaders to close the global health gap, we can avoid millions of preventable child deaths by 2035. Together we can give all children the healthy start in life they deserve, and help every child to survive their fifth birthday.