Immunizations make difference

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Don C. Brunell

One of the consequences of Venezuela’s economic ruin is infectious diseases are reaching epidemic proportions and spreading to neighboring Latin American countries.

Venezuela, a country of 30 million people, sits on large oil reserves but when global crude prices plunged, its economy was clobbered and inflation skyrocketed. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecast an inflation rate of 2,350 percent for 2018.

The breakdown of Venezuela’s health system has turned what was once Latin America’s richest nation into an incubator for malaria, yellow fever, diphtheria, dengue and tuberculosis, medical officials in Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela told The Wall Street Journal.

Venezuela’s economy, which dropped by a half since 2013, has resulted in widespread hunger, power blackouts and a dearth of basic services, like water delivery. The country has seen its public health care system deteriorate to the point where hospitals are unable to provide basic services or medicines.

Health officials, particularly in impoverished parts of Venezuela, no longer offer children the full cycle of vaccinations and the government long ago scaled back campaigns to fumigate against disease-carrying mosquitoes.

President Nicolás Maduro, an avowed socialist, battered Venezuela’s business sector causing an exodus of manufacturers. To generate income, he substantially increased the wages and taxes. It backfired.

Maduro denies the healthcare system is in distress and charges critics with fabricating horror stories. Doctors and health officials who challenge Maduro are either fired or threatened with arrest.

Over 2.3 million Venezuelan refuges have overwhelmed communities in northern Brazil and eastern Colombia. “They arrive malnourished, weak, and only then we discover they are sick,” Sandra Palomino, a Brazilian coordinator at a center that cares for indigenous migrants, told the Journal.

The problem is growing. Colombia’s government estimates that anywhere from 1.8 to 4 million Venezuelans are expected to arrive in that country by 2021.

Contrast what is happening in Venezuela with the worldwide vaccination strategy which punctuates the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Gates vaccine strategy is to prevent more than 11 million deaths, 3.9 million disabilities, and 264 million illnesses by 2020 through sustainable vaccine coverage.

Gates is prominent in The Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP), endorsed by the 194 member states of the World Health Assembly (WHA). GVAP provides a framework for delivering full access to immunization by 2020.

“Global immunization coverage has never been higher. More than 100 million children are immunized each year against tuberculosis, polio, measles, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B, Haemophilus influenzae type B, and, in some countries, yellow fever. These vaccines save an estimated 2.5 million lives each year,” Gates reports.

Despite these great strides, there remains an urgent need to reach all children with life-saving vaccines, Gates added. One in five children worldwide are not fully protected with even the most basic vaccines. As a result, an estimated 1.5 million children die each year — one every 20 seconds — from vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Thankfully, there are generous Americans, such as the Gates and Warren Buffett. Buffett has been a large primary funder of the Gates Foundation, which has over $50 billion in assets. Buffett pledged to give away nearly all of his fortune (estimated to be $85 billion) to philanthropic causes. The prime benefactor is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The point is we can be thankful that our market-based, free enterprise system provides the wealth which allows our government and charitable organization to invest in programs which improve our health. While our economic and health care systems have their shortcomings, they are far better than countries where dictators suppress people and let their public services, particularly medical infrastructure, implode.

Don Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, after over 25 years as its CEO and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at TheBrunells@msn.com.

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