Vaccines to Change the World
April 11, 2012 in Health, Poverty and Development
LAUNCH OF AUSTRALIA’S ROLE IN THE WORLD
By Gaya Raghavan
If we deal with poverty, we can deal with overpopulation.
This was the message that resonated at a recent public lecture and forum on global health and Australia’s critical role in a worldwide mission to immunise against deadly diseases. The event marked the launch of Australia’s Role in the World, an initiative between The University of Melbourne, the Australian Institute of International Affairs and UN Youth Australia to engage young people in debate about major political issues.
The event opened with Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations (GAVI) presenting a short lecture on the impact that vaccines and immunisations can have on mortality rates in developing countries. The statistics are shocking. Eradicating smallpox saves US $1.3 billion a year. A one year increase in life expectancy increases labour productivity by four per cent. A vaccination is sometimes the only time a child in the developing world sees a doctor.
Dr Berkley makes a strong case supporting the need for greater public and private commitment to extending the reach of vaccination and immunisation programmes in developing countries and he is clearly not alone. The lecture was followed by a forum featuring distinguished panellists Sir Gustav Nossal, Mr Tim Costello, CEO of World Vision Australia and Dr Kate Taylor from the Nossal Institute of Global Health. Audience members were invited to live Tweet their questions for panel members to answer during the forum.
The forum, moderated by former ABC Middle East correspondent Ben Knight, drove home the consensus that targeting global health and poverty is the key to managing pressing issues of overpopulation. As Sir Nossal put it, the way to control the population is with lower birth rates rather than higher death rates.
As much as GAVI has changed the global health landscape, supporting the immunisation of 326 million children and preventing more than 5.5 million future deaths in just over a decade, there is still much to be done. Dr Taylor explained that currently more people in the world have access to mobile phones than to vaccines or even to clean drinking water.
One major point the panellists agreed on is that Australia punches well above its weight in the area of immunology. At a governmental level, Australia has a well-established commitment to funding aid and development all over the world, particularly in the Asia Pacific region.
However, Australia’s mega-rich lag far behind those of the rest of the world when it comes to charitable giving. Mr Costello quoting Andrew Carnegie said, “the man who dies rich dies disgraced.” He argued the need for greater private contributions to aid, citing the model of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in the United States as a standard to aspire to. He also cited the surprising fact that the lowest level of charitable giving per capita is observed in Western Australia, where arguably many of Australia’s wealthiest mining magnates are based.
A question from the audience prompted a discussion of how to respond to the anti-vaccination movement or anti-vaxers, as its members have come to be known. As Dr Berkley and Mr Costello explained, anti-vaxers are often educated, high-income earners who are not part of the demographic that GAVI’s work targets. Sir Nossal iterated that the side effects of vaccines are vanishingly rare today and that vaccines and immunisations are important tools for perpetuating global health. Dr Berkley and the rest of the panel supported this argument, finding consensus on the fact that the prevention of diseases is far more cost effective than treating them.
The event closed with final comments from Dr Berkley commending Australia’s contribution to immunology research and its significant contribution to global health, poverty and development through AusAID and organisations like World Vision Australia.
This inaugural event in the Australia’s Role in the World series proved that, however small, there is a sector of Australian youth interested in the debate on global issues and Australia’s response to them. It is hoped that with time, this initiative will get more young people interested in debating the issues that affect our lives everyday.