Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Post-2015 Blog Week: 'We need to focus on what works' by Hope Randall, PATH

Hope Randall is a Communications Associate for defeatDD at PATH. Here she describes how a recent trip to Zambia demonstrates the need for an integrated approach to healthcare in the post-2015 agenda.

Vusi receiving his vaccine (photo: PATH/Gareth Bentley)
It was one of those moments that make you remember why you choose to enter the field of health and development in the first place.

After advocating for rotavirus vaccines for more than 3 years with PATH in Washington, DC, here I was in a clinic just outside of Lusaka, Zambia, holding a child that made statistics jump off a page far more than any colorful infographic. Vusi is the first child I met who received the rotavirus vaccine, just earlier that morning. Those few drops from the oral vaccine might save his life one day.

These success stories remind us of the progress we’ve made so far, particularly in regard to MDG 4. Michael Clemens of the Center for Global Development described the sharp decline in child mortality recently reported in the Lancet as the “biggest, best story in development,” but the story isn’t over yet.

The MDGs expire in 2015; the need to ensure equal access to basic health interventions does not. Thankfully, strategists behind the post-2015 agenda agree on the bottom line: we need to focus on what works. As usual, the best answers are found in the practical lessons learned in the field where policies are put to the test. 

Diarrheal disease is a challenge that exemplifies the necessity for integration. A rotavirus vaccine will protect Vusi from the most lethal form of diarrheal disease: a virus that strikes most children before the age of 3, regardless of geography or access to safe drinking water and sanitation. In settings where treatment is difficult to access, it is ideal to prevent illness in the first place, a fact which makes vaccination one of the most cost-effective health interventions. However, vaccines alone are not enough.

Teresa and Vusi (photo: PATH/Gareth Bentley)
The day-to-day routine of Vusi’s mother, Teresa, illustrates the other basic interventions that will be relevant to protect her newborn child. Investment in a vaccine for Vusi is worthless if he later gets sick from another form of diarrheal disease as a result of dirty water or lack of sanitation and hygiene; if he misses school as a result of illness; if the repeated cycle of malnutrition and diarrheal disease curbs his physical and cognitive development. 

Vusi is off to a great start. After Teresa battled diarrheal disease with her other children, she was thrilled to learn about the rotavirus vaccine. She told me what she learned from the clinic about how to prevent other forms of diarrheal disease, such as boiling water and keeping the baby and the environment clean.

Integrated approaches stand the test of time and will remain essential for continued progress in the post-2015 agenda. 

It is only through a practical combination of basic prevention and treatment solutions that we can continue to drive down child mortality figures and promote a healthy, productive future for families, communities, and nations.

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