Vaccine program moves Stephen Jones

MP Stephen Jones
MP Stephen Jones

Every 20 seconds a child dies somewhere in the world from a vaccine-preventable disease.

It is a statistic that Member for Throsby Stephen Jones said the Australian government is working hard to improve.

Mr Jones was one of five federal Australian politicians who travelled to Burma last week to review the work of GAVI - the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation - a program the government has supported since 2006.

"The purpose of GAVI is to purchase and distribute vital vaccines for diseases to some 19 million children who are currently not receiving them," he said.

"We were there to look at this work in Myanmar [Burma] which is one of the poorest countries in South-East Asia. Kids are dying of preventable diseases, for want of access to clean water and basic health and medical services.

"You can guarantee if you give a child a vaccine, you reduce their chances of dying by half and you eradicate the chance of them getting many preventable diseases."

The delegation visited immunisation clinics in rural and regional communities in Burma and met Burmese government officials to learn about the health issues in the emerging South Asian region.

They also launched the new 1-in-5 vaccine, Pentavalent which within the next six months will see over half a million children across Burma protected against diptheria, tetanus, hepatitis B, influenza and pertussis.

"We had the opportunity to watch hundreds of children getting vaccines. Knowing Australia's contribution to making these vaccinations happen has increased the chance those children will grow up happy and healthy - that's a really good thing," Mr Jones said.

"On one hand, it was shocking to see people living in poverty, suffering and dying from diseases that have either been eradicated or are easily dealt with in countries like Australia through basic medicines that are readily available.

"But the positive side of the trip was seeing the economic and political reform process that is now under way. [This work] is part of opening up Myanmar."

Mr Jones was particularly moved speaking to the midwives who administer these vaccines across the country.

"They don't get paid much, but often pay for their own transport, and walk miles and miles to get to remote villages to deliver vaccines to save others. They're amazing."

Since 2001, the GAVI Alliance has helped to vaccinate 370 million people in the world's poorest countries, helping save about 5.5 million lives.

It aims to help vaccinate an additional 250 million children and help save another four million lives by 2015.

"We are a major donor, the second or third biggest state donor to the GAVI alliance ... we might live in different countries, but we share a common bond of humanity," Mr Jones said.

"It's one of the best ways you can make an immediate difference, the money goes directly to the vaccines, and it saves lives."


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