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Fighting Disease:
Health At The End Of The Millennium
Another Wired Curriculum from The United Nations CyberSchoolBus

1 Introduction
2 How They Work
3 How They Spread
4 Poverty and Disease
5 Prevention
6 Immunization

Unit 6

(GRADES 5-7)

Just a little over 200 years ago, an English doctor by the name of Edward Jenner observed that those who had been infected with cowpox did not get smallpox. He thought that if he purposely gave someone a case of the milder cowpox that they would not get smallpox. He was right.

His discovery was, in fact, the first vaccine. There are now many diseases which can be prevented by vaccination. Six in particular are considered to be 'basic' by the World Health Organization. They are diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, tuberculosis and measles. When children are vaccinated for these diseases they have a much greater chance to live past the age of five and grow up to be adults. These six vaccines can prevent the deaths of over two million children a year.

The Expanded Program on Immunization is sponsored by the World Health Organization and other groups. It aims to make vaccines for these disease available to all children. This program also gives children Vitamin A to prevent blindness and Iodine to prevent mental retardation. At the time of vaccination, health checkups are given to babies and young children and their mothers.

Getting the vaccines to people is not always an easy task, especially in areas of civil strife and war. It's also difficult to deliver the vaccines to distant areas which are only reachable via long, unpaved roads. For one thing, like milk which goes sour if it's left out in the heat, vaccines will ruin if not kept at a cool temperature - though they should not be frozen either. This is done by what is called the Cold Chain: vaccines are moved around in a system of refrigeration and coolers, like the ones used to keep soda cold in a store.

In order to have a successful immunization program, we also need a lot of information. We need to know where diseases are occurring and how many people are at risk. We then need to know how well the immunization programme worked: how many people were vaccinated, how many still get sick and so on.

The Last Case of Polio in the Western Hemisphere
Luis Fermin Tenorio - the last polio
case in the Western Hemisphere

Another part of any immunization program is education or public information about vaccination. If people do not understand the need for vaccination, they will not go to get vaccinated. People also need to know that there are way to protect themselves from other disease for which we do not yet have vaccines -- starting from the basic measures of hygiene such as clean water and washed hands.

Immunization does not cost much money. To vaccinate a child for all six diseases costs less than US$ 1.00. If the entire EPI bundle is included in the cost it goes up to US$ 15.00. Not much money when you consider that the cost of taking care of someone after they are ill can be hundreds of times greater.

It might not take an immense amount of money, but it does take a lot of will and cooperation. Local organizations, government bodies, international organizations, individual donors around the world all contribute to make such programs possible. Immunization programs are a tribute to what global cooperation can achieve: working together we have wiped out smallpox and by the year 2000 we hope to have eliminated polio. Working together, we make possible the goal of Health for All by the Year 2000.

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