We, as members of the UNA chapter of Catholic University, had the pleasure of sitting down with Joan Awunyo-Akaba. Joan is a passionate advocate for global immunization and vaccination and the founder and director of a NGO which focuses on alleviating poverty in Ghana. She also serves as the representative for civil society on the board of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, also known as the GAVI Alliance. At the start of the new millennium, the GAVI Alliance was founded to reduce the number of children unable to receive life-saving vaccinations. Joan Awunyo-Akaba furthered our awareness of the role that vaccinations and immunizations play for countless children.
Elyse Desrochers, Pat Fandel, and Whitney Anderson
Catholic University Campus Chapter
In a world that is defined by progressive medical advances and scientific innovation, it is shocking to learn that one in five children do not receive the vaccines and immunizations that would afford them a healthy, happy childhood. The GAVI Alliance is a partnership between organized bodies that seeks to streamline the decision-making process involved in providing access to immunizations and vaccinations.
The core members of the alliance include UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the World Bank, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The overall mission of the GAVI Alliance is to promote the health and well-being of children by improving access to immunizations and vaccinations. More specifically, GAVI has set a goal to vaccinate an additional quarter billion people by 2015.
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Obstacles on the Road to Success
When asked what the biggest obstacle facing the GAVI Alliance was, Joan said that infrastructure and government systems often prevent vaccinations from reaching remote villages. It is the responsibility of the local governments to distribute the vaccinations to the people, and the countries often do not have the resources necessary for delivery. This results in over 22 million people each year missing their vaccinations. While GAVI is working to improve delivery methods, it has proven to be extremely difficult.
Joan Awunyo-Akaba’s Role and Inspiration
As the civil society representative, Joan acts as a watchdog to monitor the distribution of vaccinations provided by the alliance. This means that she must work closely with the local governing entities to ensure that they are doing their part to improve the situation in their respective areas.
Joan sees herself as a “voice for the voiceless.” The children that GAVI provides vaccinations for are unable to speak for themselves, so Joan acts as their advocate. As a nurse in Ghana, Joan saw too many instances in which children died from easily preventable diseases. These experiences ignited her passion for advocacy and motivated her to become involved with the administration of vaccinations and immunizations.
Be the Voice
It was once expressed that we, as members of a global community, must “be the change that we want to see in the world.” This notion is rooted firmly in the concept of promotion and awareness. We must serve as ambassadors of advocacy in the fight to eradicate preventable disease. It is the children of today that become the leaders of tomorrow. They are, in the words of Joan, the “future citizens of the world, they are our success.”
As members of a global community, it is vital that we raise awareness in this fight to protect children. Without them we have no future and no hope; with each child lost to a preventable disease the world loses precious bits of potential. In the struggle to eradicate preventable diseases through vaccination and immunization, it is important to remember that we, as a society, serve as a “voice for the voiceless.” We must all be the voice for the children. We must all be advocates of a disease-free future.