NEEDHAM, Massachusetts — Paperwork. Needles. Long lines. These are the most common sightings at vaccination clinics in the U.S. Getting a flu shot in this country during the autumn and winter months is pretty standard fare for individuals and families alike.
In the poorer parts of Africa and Asia however, different cultural perspectives prevail. Caught between attitudes ranging from vaguely skeptical (the minority) to adamantly suspicious (the majority), as many as 2.5 million deaths a year occur as a result of vaccine-preventable diseases. The most vulnerable demographic is children younger than five.
The most common preventable killers of children in the developing world are pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria, measles and HIV/AIDS. While doctors contend that vaccinations prevent 2 million deaths per year, lack of parental knowledge sometimes proves to be a stumbling block.
Already there have been large groups of people in Africa and Asia who took steps to block the administration of vaccines. In 2003, Nigerian religious and political leaders boycotted a polio vaccination campaign on the premise of it causing AIDS and sterility. In addition, some Hindu and Muslim groups in India continue to hold a misplaced belief that vaccinations are being used as a subtle family planning method that targets the latter group especially.
However, there are also regions of the two continents that are receptive to the idea of vaccinations. Both Javanese transmigrants and followers of the Aga Khan in Pakistan maintain cultural attitudes that are more welcoming of Western medicine. Such receptivity has nothing to do with education, since the Aga Khan are overwhelmingly illiterate with little knowledge about how vaccines work.
Another upcoming study will look at the way vaccination policies are implemented specifically for adolescents. The study’s aim is to conduct both a qualitative and quantitative review on the knowledge, attitudes and practices of adolescent vaccination among their targets, as well as African parents and teachers.
Currently though, adolescent-focused vaccination policies in Africa seem to be non-existent. Indeed those in this age group who do not die of vaccine-preventable diseases are already at an increased risk for induction into terrorist groups, criminal activity at the local level and teenage pregnancy.
Given the impoverished states of Asia and Africa, vaccinations are a must. It ought to go without saying that better health promotes social development and economic growth because more people can go on to get their education.
In Taiwan civilians have already begun to see improvements in the rates of chronic hepatitis B. Protection against the pathogen protects people from liver cancer and hepatocellular carcinoma. This is in addition to the reduction of cervical cancer rates when HPV vaccines are made available.
It is especially important that people get vaccinated en masse because efficacious vaccines begin to protect the unimmunized as well. The phenomenon known as Herd Protection reduces the rates of sickness and disease among the entire group when enough people are made immune. For example, less than 70 percent of Gambia’s population was given the immunization against Hib disease, but that was enough to completely eliminate it within the country’s borders.
In sum, by redirecting national security interests from military defense to more open lines of communication between the developed and developing nations, thousands more lives can be saved through fostered international relations. The first step is correspondence. The second is education.
– Leah Zazofsky