Dr Vanessa Kerry, Co-Founder and CEO of Seed Global Health, discusses the need to put equity and justice at the heart of the global health agenda.
This week, parents in the United States were greeted with news that Pfizer was submitting data to the FDA that its Covid-19 vaccine has been shown to be safe and effective for children as young as five years old. As a parent myself, I imagine my sighs of relief, exhaustion, and joy were reflected in millions of homes.
Likewise, as a physician and public health professional, I am delighted to see the data showing how the vaccine generates an appreciable antibody response and proving that it is safe.
But that doesn’t erase how extremely difficult the past two years have been. Parents have borne a unique burden: trying to balance the demands of the job, a dramatic and difficult transition to distant school for children, and protecting their families from Covid-19.
And the joy parents like me have felt this week has yet to spread to too much of the world, where access to Covid-19 vaccines remains elusive for children and adults alike.
In addition to being a doctor and parent, I also run Seed Global Health, a non-profit organization that seeks to improve health around the world by ensuring that no country is short of the necessary doctors, nurses and midwives. to heal individuals and communities. Yet every day in our work we see historic inequalities and injustices in health occurring just like this vaccine rollout.
Countries like Malawi have less than one doctor for every 25,000 people (in contrast, the United States has 65). In Sierra Leone, a woman’s lifetime risk of dying during childbirth is 1 in 17. Half of the deaths in Uganda could be prevented if emergency care services were available. Here in the United States, although stark health disparities remain, most people do not face these same challenges or lack of options.
So even as we are at the height of vaccination in the United States, with children as young as five on the verge of protection, I refuse to accept the growing chasm between resourceful countries like ours. and all other countries and vulnerable people around the world.
It is an unfair and unnecessary division.
The World Bank has estimated the cumulative cost of Covid-19 at $ 16 trillion – and it continues. In contrast, the International Monetary Fund has estimated the cost of immunizing every person on this planet at $ 50 billion.
To be clear, given the choice, every parent should protect their children. I would never argue otherwise. Every family has the right to the safe and secure health that makes education, employment and opportunity possible. Health is really fundamental for children not only to survive, but to thrive. The problem is that not all families have this option today.
I grew up in a home that emphasized public service, finding ways to courageously face difficult challenges and contributing to those solutions for the greater good. I raise my own children with values of fairness, service, global citizenship and a belief in our common humanity.
With innovation, courage, and political will, we can turn these values into reality and translate them into lasting change – for children in the United States and around the world. We can also rule out any myopic reasons why such a health transformation might not be possible: it takes too long; It’s expensive; financial returns are too difficult to measure.
Data and the work of many refute these arguments. The World Bank has estimated the cumulative cost of Covid-19 at $ 16 trillion – and it continues. In contrast, the International Monetary Fund has estimated the cost of immunizing every person on this planet at $ 50 billion. Such an investment promises dividends beyond health in development, economic growth and well-being.
The world every child deserves is not out of reach. Building on the momentum of the Biden administration in convening a Covid-19 summit and a meeting of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly this month, there is an important opportunity to place fairness and justice – values that we should teach our children for a stronger and more secure world – at the heart of our global agenda.
Today, parents in some parts of the world can look forward to a closer return to normal for their children and their communities. Tomorrow we need to move beyond celebration and take action, ensuring that every parent can breathe the same sigh of relief.
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