Imagine a world where preventable disease no longer claims the lives of children
4 MINUTE READ
With the rising of the African sun, a newborn baby cries for the first time. At the same time, on a warm Australian afternoon, an exhausted new mother gazes at her sleeping baby.
Malawi is a tiny, landlocked nation in the heart of Africa. Its flag displays a rising sun, symbolic of “the dawn of hope and freedom for the continent of Africa”1.
But the stark reality is that a baby born in this nation is 13 times more likely to die before reaching his 5th birthday, than a baby born in Australia.2
Child mortality in Malawi used to be a whole lot worse. In 1965, 370 out of every 1,000 Malawian babies would not survive until their 5th birthday.2 Thankfully, by 2019, that number had fallen below 50.2
In the last 50 years, child mortality rates in developing countries have dropped significantly. Child immunisation is one factor that has led to improved child survival. Around the world, vaccines save the lives of more than five children every minute.3
Malawi has made significant progress in terms of its child immunisation. According to the Malawi Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI), 75% of children between the ages of one and two years had received all eight basic vaccinations in 2019.4
“Around the world, vaccines save the lives of more than five children every minute.”
Other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are still far from reaching these vaccination rates. In the Central African Republic, only 42% of infants receive their 3rd dose of DTP vaccine. The Central African Republic’s child mortality is more than double that of Malawi.5
The COVID pandemic is threatening child vaccination programs in many African countries. Vaccine access has declined during the pandemic, and misinformation abounds. The fear of contracting COVID-19 has kept families away from vaccination centres. Some parents are concerned about COVID-19 vaccines and believe that these are being given to children in the place of routine immunisations.
Dr Lawrence Nazimera, national coordinator for Gavi (the Vaccine Alliance) in Malawi, and his team work tirelessly to provide vaccines to children in Malawi. Now they are faced with the enormous task of providing COVID vaccinations for adults too.
Lawrence describes: “The COVID pandemic has burdened the whole health system. It has also caused strain on the Expanded Programme on Immunisation in terms of human and financial resources.”
Despite the challenges of his role, Lawrence is grateful for the opportunity to serve the people of Malawi. He feels honoured to be contributing to a program that is saving children’s lives. Lawrence explains, “I feel this is what I need to be doing… to be of service to the people that God created.”
As one of the poorest nations on earth, Malawi’s health system remains under-funded, and relies heavily on donor funding. Gavi (the Vaccine Alliance) currently funds over 80% of Malawi’s child vaccinations.6 Vaccines are administered by government health facilities, as well as private and faith-based organisations.
Tamandani Nazimera is Lawrence’s wife, and a professional nurse. Having worked in Malawi’s Ministry of Health, Tamandani has a clear understanding of the gaps in Malawi’s health system.
As a passionate Christian, Tamandani cares deeply for the health of her people, and volunteers as Health Program Officer at African Enterprise. With the help of African Enterprise, Tamandani hopes to establish primary health clinics in underserved areas of rural Malawi. (As part of their mission to share the love of Jesus in word and deed, African Enterprise has already established similar primary health care centres in Kenya and Uganda.)
“With 83% of Malawi’s population living in rural areas amidst very high levels of poverty, more clinics are needed to service these areas.”
As she serves at African Enterprise, Tamandani currently focuses on Community Health Promotion. In future, she would like to establish mobile outreach clinics that offer primary healthcare, including routine child vaccinations. With 83% of Malawi’s population living in rural areas amidst very high levels of poverty7, more clinics are needed to service these areas.
Before the onset of the COVID pandemic, a baby born in Sub-Saharan Africa could expect to live for around 62 years. A child born in Australia has a life expectancy of 838.
Australian and African children are born under the same sun. But they have a vastly different experience of health and opportunity.
The writer of Ecclesiastes describes the injustice and seeming futility of our human existence under the sun. But as Christians, our hope reaches beyond our solar system. Could we dare to embrace a faith that impacts life on earth? Like Lawrence and Tamandani, could we refuse to accept the injustice that plagues our planet? If so, we will be working towards a world where preventable disease no longer claims the lives of children, regardless of their place of birth.
“Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10 KJV)
For all children under the sun.
Dr Jean Jacobs Dr Jean Jacobs is a South African medical doctor, who currently lives in Sydney. Jean is involved in freelance writing for the medical and not-for-profit sectors and has recently completed postgraduate studies in health management and public health, at the University of New South Wales.
- Wikipedia. Flag of Malawi 2021 [Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Malawi.
- The World Bank. Mortality rate, under-5, male (per 1,000 live births) – Malawi 2021 [Available from: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.DYN.MORT.MA?locations=MW.
- UNICEF. Immunization 2020 [Available from: https://www.unicef.org/immunization.
- Gavi – The Vaccine Alliance. Malawi 2021 [Available from: https://www.gavi.org/programmes-impact/country-hub/africa/malawi.
- UNICEF. Central African Republic 2021 [Available from: https://data.unicef.org/country/caf/.
- UNICEF. 2019/20 Child Immunization Budget Brief 2019 [Available from: https://www.unicef.org/esa/media/6191/file/UNICEF-Malawi-2019-2020-Immunization-Budget-Brief.pdf.
- Macrotrends. Malawi Rural Population 1960 – 2021 2021 [Available from: https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/MWI/malawi/rural-population.
- The World Bank. Life expectancy at birth, total (years) – Malawi 2021 [Available from: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.DYN.LE00.IN?locations=MW.