oral vaccination Caisii Mao/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Taking Vaccines the Last Mile

No single preventive health intervention is more cost-effective than immunization. And yet, despite significant progress on expanding global immunization, coverage has stalled at about 85% in recent years, which translates into millions of needless deaths.

GHAZIABAD, UTTAR PRADESH – A four-year-old girl recently came to the emergency room where I work as a resident doctor. She was writhing in pain, her body convulsed with seizures. My team and I moved fast to activate seizure protocol, secure her intravenous drip, and deliver all appropriate medications. We then performed a test: I blew air toward her, and she collapsed in pain; I offered her water, and her agony intensified sharply. The diagnosis was clear: she had rabies – and it was too late to save her.

The girl’s family knew that a dog had bitten her, but they had been told that traditional herbs would heal her, so they had delayed taking her to the hospital. She died after less than a day in our care. Had her parents taken her to a hospital immediately for the anti-rabies serum and the appropriate vaccination – she would still be alive. Her grief-stricken mother’s tormented screams still echo in my mind.

As a resident doctor in pediatrics, I am no stranger to death. But watching an innocent child succumb to an ailment that is so easily prevented by a simple intervention takes a severe toll. After all, the little girl I watched die that day was hardly an anomaly.