Every twenty seconds a child dies of a vaccine-preventable death. That amounts to approximately 1.5 million child deaths each year, according to the United Nations Foundation.
And the foundation is hoping Utahns are willing to do something about it. On Wednesday, foundation representatives introduced the four-month-old Shot@Life program, which seeks to empower Americans to save childrens' lives by supporting vaccination across the globe.
Former Utah Republican Sen. Bob Bennett, co-chair of Shot@Life, and Fred Riley, manager of the LDS Church's humanitarian services, joined Utah supporters and UN representatives to encourage donations and advocacy.
"It really is no coincidence that we're in Utah. This is deliberate," said Shot@Life leader Devi Ramachandran Thomas, during the program's Utah launch at Discovery Gateway. "We're here because we know we have a very welcoming group of people."
Thomas, who is based in Washington, D.C., called Utah "glocal" because its citizens are both globally and locally minded, which is the perfect fusion for Shot@Life's goals, she said.
The program's target audience is American mothers because they naturally relate to the problem, but it's not a one-group issue.
"It is not a mother's issue, although we look really good in green," said Lori Harding, health commissioner for the Utah PTA, who was clad in Shot@Life's theme color. "It is everyone's issue. We are no longer just Utah."
Vaccinations are critical in a world that has no physical boundaries for travelers, Harding said. "We really need to educate everyone so that no matter where we go on this wonderful earth we are protected."
Thomas said it takes only $20 to immunize a child for life against four critical diseases pneumonia, diarrhea, polio and measles.
Bennett said progress has been made, but more needs to be done. "Measles still kill about 200,000 children a year. The good news is that number used to be 750,000…But the bad number is it's still 200,000 a year and that's 200,000 too many."
Bennett and Riley previously had been involved in the United Nations Foundation measles initiative. Bennett said he was in Mozambique last May, where the goal was to vaccinate 3.6 million children in five days. The LDS Church joined the international measles initiative in 2003, and since then has contributed $15.9 million and 784,900 hours of service in 35 countries, according to Riley.
Riley called the measles initiative one of the most overlooked "medical miracles" in perhaps the last century.
"To take the leading cause of childhood death in the world in developing countries and bring that down to 1 percent of childhood deaths is an amazing story, one that's almost without equal in medicine today," he said. "We hope to do that with other immunizations around the world."
Chrysula Winegar, a mother and blogger who advocates for Shot@Life, said polio has nearly been eradicated.
"My friends, there are no borders on humanity. Loving the child next door and loving the child across the world are not mutually exclusive categories," she said. "We have to take care of those abroad as well as those at home."
O The number of children dying every year from preventable diseases in developing countries is nearly equivalent to half the children entering kindergarten in the U.S. Two of the most common causes of child death, pneumonia and diarrhea, can largely be prevented by existing vaccines. Get more information online. > shotatlife.org