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The Social Cost of Not Vaccinating Children

 Photo via courtesy of RidvanArda / Shutterstock / RNS

Photo via courtesy of RidvanArda / Shutterstock / RNS

The entirely preventable California measles outbreak has now sickened more than 70 people. With perhaps hundreds more exposed, the outbreak will likely continue.

As the disease spreads, experts will debate how we respond and what to do about the anti-vaccine movement that’s partly to blame for this mess. Likely, all we’ll agree on is better outreach to parents.

That’s not enough. Parents who do not vaccinate their children should go to jail.

In the year 2015, it is amazing that anyone in the United States contracts measles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the U.S. eliminated all native cases of measles in the year 2000. New cases generally occurred only among unvaccinated foreigners. Today, however, because of ignorant “anti-vaxxers,” the disease is staging a comeback.

Anti-vaxxers often claim the right not to put “poison” in their children’s bodies. That is ludicrous. A mountain of data has demonstrated that vaccines are safe and effective. Insisting otherwise is akin to believing that the moon landing was faked.

A more serious objection is that, like birth control, those with religious objections should be exempted. But, let’s remember that civil rights go both ways.

Is Ebola a Curse from God? Some African Christian Leaders Think So

Hospital in Kenema, Sierra Leone, where Ebola virus samples are tested, in June 2014. Courtesy of Leasmhar via Wikimedia Commons

As Western nations evacuate their citizens from West Africa’s growing Ebola outbreak, some Christian leaders have begun to speak of the virus as a curse from God.

On Friday, the World Health Organization declared the Ebola crisis ravaging the region an international health emergency. On the same day, Nigeria became the latest country in West Africa to declare the virus crisis a national emergency, the day after Spain evacuated a priest and a nun from Liberia to Madrid.

On Saturday, a Congolese nun died from Ebola in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, the AP reported.

The outbreak started in December in Guinea, but was not discovered until March. It has since killed more than 1,000 people in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.

“People are having different misconceptions that this is [a curse] from God,” said Bishop Sumoward Harris, now retired from the Lutheran Church in Liberia. “This is depending on how they are interpreting the Bible. But I don’t think God is angry and is issuing a punishment.”

In Liberia, more than 100 Christian leaders meeting in early August declared that God was angry and Ebola a plague. 

Doctor from Samaritan's Purse Catches Lethal Ebola Virus

String-like Ebola virus particles are shedding from an infected cell in this electron micrograph. Creative Commons image: NIAID

An Ebola outbreak that has killed more than 670 people in Africa is now taking a toll on doctors and health care workers battling the deadly disease, including two Americans.

Kent Brantly, 33, an American doctor who has been working in Liberia since October for the North Carolina-based aid organization Samaritan’s Purse, is receiving intensive medical treatment after he was infected with Ebola, according to a spokeswoman for the group.

Melissa Strickland said Brantly, who is married and has two children, was talking with his doctors and working on his computer while being treated.

A second U.S. citizen, Nancy Writebol, also has tested positive for Ebola, Samaritan’s Purse said. Writebol is employed by mission group SIM in Liberia and was helping a joint SIM/Samaritan’s Purse team treating Ebola patients in Monrovia. Writebol is married with two children, the organization said.

“Both of them tonight are in stable condition,” Ken Isaacs, Samaritan Purse’s vice president of programs and government relations, said Sunday. “But they are not out of the woods yet.”

Christian Organization Delivers Life-Saving Vaccines

Health worker vaccinates baby at Bishop Masereka Medical Center in Uganda. Photo:Christian Connections for International Health

April 24-30 is World Immunization Week. While it is estimated that vaccinations save the lives of 2.5 million children every year, another 1.5 million children die each year from diseases that can be prevented with vaccines. Christian organizations are working to change this and help the global health community reach the 20 percent of children worldwide who miss out on life-saving vaccines.

Sylvia, a mother of three in Kasese, Uganda says she was aware of vaccines to prevent disease, but did not understand their importance or the fact that children need a number of vaccinations throughout the first five years of life. “All I understood was that there are killer diseases we should immunize our children against,” explained Sylvia. “I took my first and second child for vaccines for only the first nine months of life. I didn’t learn my children would still be at risk of catching diseases if they were not immunized for five full years until an educator from the Bishop Masereka Christian Foundation (BMCF) came to my village.”

Reaching parents with information about vaccines and vaccinating children is critical to child survival. Immunization is one of the main drivers behind the tremendous decline in child deaths the world has experienced in recent decades.

Two Steps Obama Can Take to Defeat AIDS

Spirit of America/Shutterstock

WHO recommends early and preventive treatment of AIDS/HIV with antiretrovirals. Spirit of America/Shutterstock

We are making historic progress against HIV/AIDS: The global rate of new HIV infections has leveled, and the number of annual AIDS deaths has decreased by nearly a third since 2005. Antiretroviral drugs are driving these gains by stopping progression of the disease and, we now know, preventing the spread of HIV infections.

Yet AIDS remains the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa, where poverty limits access to lifesaving treatments and 25 million people are living with HIV—representing 70 percent of cases worldwide. President Barack Obama should be commended for uniting the world behind the goal of creating an AIDS-free generation. I share his passion and believe we can achieve this in the next decade — but only if we accelerate the provision of antiretrovirals to the poorest and most vulnerable people.

The opportunity has never been clearer. New data published in the New England Journal of Medicine project that early treatment with antiretrovirals in South Africa, my home country, would prove very cost-effective over a lifetime (costing $590 per life-year saved) and generate both public health and economic benefits. The World Health Organization now recommends early and preventive treatment with antiretrovirals, including administration to children and uninfected partners of people living with the disease. The WHO estimates that this could save an additional 3 million lives and prevent at least as many new HIV infections through 2025.

When Obama and I met in South Africa in June, I reminded him that, given his deep familial roots in the continent, his success is our success — his failure, our failure. With that in mind, there are two decisions Obama can make before the end of this year to fulfill the promise of an AIDS-free generation.

Sojo Stories: Immunizing 250 Million Children By 2015

Film footage via GAVI Alliance

Film footage via GAVI Alliance

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.”

A Lenten Reflection on 'The Least of These'

Mental health illustration, Lightspring / Shutterstock.com

Mental health illustration, Lightspring / Shutterstock.com

As a seminary graduate and a Masters of Social Work student, I have a passion for social justice and working to improve the wellbeing and health of vulnerable populations. After seminary, during my time as a youth leader, we often turned to Matthew 25:31-46, the familiar passage about “the least of these,” and discussed God’s emphasis on justice and serving the marginalized in our societies.

My time as a social work student, particularly through my current class on international social work, has expanded my concept of the “least of these.” We have learned about some of the most vulnerable populations around the world – child soldiers in Uganda and Colombia, young girls trafficked into the sex trade in Cambodia, HIV/AIDS patients from Haiti, migrants left to die in the desert while trying to cross the Mexican-U.S. border, and the list continues. These concepts were not completely unknown to me and would likely not be new to you either. This past week, however, we studied a different topic, one that has not drawn as much media attention – global mental health.

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