June 2011

$4.3 Billion Pledged to Vaccinate Children in Developing Countries

Great news!  Two days ago the Global Alliance on Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) held a donation pledging conference of unprecedented success: several contributing countries promised a total of $4.3 billion for the vaccination of children in the developing world.  Why this announcement is great news seems pretty straightforward, but the immensity of the total contribution, the scope of the need for vaccines and the sources of contribution are often astounding when considered more closely.

Excitingly, the contributions exceeded the $3.7bn goal by over half a billion dollars, which in sheer gross dollars is a breathtaking overshoot.  GAVI estimates that the funding will save more than a million lives each year for the next four years, though this figure represents only a small percentage of the total preventable illness deaths in the developing world—for example, “Two million under-fives die from pneumonia alone each year,” and that’s just one of the three vaccine-preventable diseases that prove major causes of young children in low-income countries. 

The primary impetus for this staggering funding pledge lies in this fundamental incongruity—pneumonia, diarrhea and measles together account for around 35% of child deaths in low-income countries, and that “three times as many children aged under five die from pneumonia and diarrhea than from malaria and HIV/Aids combined.”  The ludicrousness of these numbers is made all the more unconscionable by the fact that most of these deaths are easily preventable with existing vaccines, but developing countries often cannot afford them. 

Perhaps most interesting about this article is the rundown of sources for the funding—the UK is the largest giver, pledging $1.3bn, while at $1bn the second largest giver is Bill Gates.  Norway and the United States come in third and fourth at $677m and $450m, respectively.  The remainder of the funding comes variously from Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands.  As a major speaker at the fundraising event, UK Prime Minister David Cameron defended his country’s increased commitment to the issue, touching on the “strong moral case” for the UK’s contribution at a time of domestic economic instability.  It’s this moral obligation which seems to lie at the heart of the issue here—despite the existence of vaccines and their routine implementation in Europe and America, these diseases remain lethal in developing countries.  These types of child death statistics would be absolutely intolerable to a developed country, so their reduction is a universal human rights imperative. 

It is, however, somewhat telling that about half of the contributions come from Gates and the UK—should the world have to rely on private philanthropy and the goodwill of a few brave nations for the prevention of diseases that should really no longer be threatening large parts of the world population in 2011?  Gates’ efforts are laudable no matter which way you look at it, but it’s hard to tell whether his choice to lead by example will actually be followed by the international community, which, by all reasonable estimations, should probably be paying attention to issues like this without being directed to them by private citizens.

You can personally donate to the GAVI’s cause here.

Anonymous Diner Foots the Whole Bill

When we fantasize about what we will do someday when we win the lottery, or I make it big with a book, or some other high hopes that are so mysteriously fulfilled, my husband and I often plot elaborate schemes and gestures to help other people. One of my favorites is to head over to the unemployment office or a church doing a WIC program or something similar and just hand out hundreds of gift cards for groceries, gas, or even just ones with cash on them, such as prepaid credit cards. Would that not be the coolest thing to do, ever?

People really do these things; I’ve seen them do them. I’ve even done them, to smaller extents, when I was able to afford it. We used to buy toys for the Toys for Tots drive every weekend, leave gifts and clothing at the door of shelters we knew about, leave tips bigger than what we could afford if we weren’t in danger of going without food or diapers that week. Sure, they aren’t grand gestures, but they at least made us feel as if we were helping someone, or making them happy, if even for a second. And there’s no greater thing in life than that, is there?

Today I read a story about an anonymous diner who bought everyone’s dinner around him whilst eating at a nice restaurant. He just sat there eating quietly, and paid for the 20 other people around him, totaling around $1,000. That’s the kind of thing I absolutely love to hear about, and wish that I could do, too. Most of us can’t afford such giant acts of kindness, though.

That said, most of us can afford smaller ones—ones that either cost little or no money to complete. Even if you can’t leave the waitress a $20 tip, could you leave her a note of appreciation if she really made your day? Even if you can’t write a big check to give to the American Cancer Society or Cardinal Glennon, you can still visit patients, write thinking of you cards, or even give a teddy bear to a sick kid. We spend so much of our lives with our heads bent and eyes downcast that we forget to see the humanity in everyone around us—and to connect with others, which very well may be one of the main meanings of life itself.

As an experiment, why not see how you can affect everyone’s lives around you positively today? Smile at people. Chat with people in line at the post office. Tell a casual joke (maybe one your child made up?) or offer to just listen. Let someone ahead of you if you’re not in a hurry—and if you are in a hurry, reassess the situation and decide whether or not it’s really that important. Vow to meet everyone’s eyes, say names when you hear them, and to connect with other people.

Of course, if you have the means and can spare it, go ahead and buy a round for the bar or meals for your fellow patrons. You’ll definitely make their day!