According to UNICEF, 29,000 children under the age of five – 21 each minute – die every day, mainly from preventable diseases.
The GAVI Alliance, a public-private partnership aimed at increasing worldwide access to immunizations, has a goal of reaching 250 million children by 2015. Dr. Mercy Ahun, GAVI special representative in Geneva, sat down with Sojourners to discuss the role of faith-based organizations in helping reach those 250 million,and the role her own personal faith plays in her work.
“What really got me into public health is my time in the children’s wards. We were working with children who had preventable diseases,” Ahun said. “… I thought to myself, why should stay here waiting for the children to fall sick before they come to the hospital. It’s better actually to go out there and prevent this in the first place.”
Ahun said faith-based organizational support is imperative, especially in some African countries where the church is already established as a trustworthy staple of the community — much more so than the government or other local institutions in many cases. According to GAVI, faith-inspired organizations in some African countries already provide as much as one-third to one-half of the available healthcare.
While there have been some cases of religious objections to vaccinations, according to GAVI, these cases are relatively infrequent, and typically not purely motivated by religion.
Rather, Ahun says it is her faith that compels her to continue working to reach more children.
“My faith as a Christian, it also helps me look at it all within the context of a mission of saving lives, a higher calling. You’re not just doing it from the human sense, but you’re doing it because this is what Jesus did. When Jesus Christ walked on Earth, one of the key things that he did was healing people — the blind, the lame, the deaf, he healed the all,” Ahun said. “In John 10:10, he says that: I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly. You cannot have abundant life if you are suffering from measles, pneumonia, and diarrhea.”
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Sandi Villarreal is Web Editor & Director of New Media for Sojourners. Brandon Hook is Online Assistant for Sojourners. Special thanks to the GAVI Allance for vaccination footage.