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Doctors slam mothers who refuse vaccines


Doctors fighting to deliver life-saving vaccines to the developing world have criticised British mothers who refuse to vaccinate their children.

Ghana has celebrated the introduction of two new vaccines to prevent pneumonia and diarrhoea - two of the biggest killers of children worldwide.

The unprecedented simultaneous introduction, supported by millions of pounds of British foreign aid, will help save the lives of an estimated 11,000 children a year.

Teams of medics have begun delivering the vaccines to infants in health centres across the West African nation in an immunisation programme driven by governments and philanthropists including Bill Gates.

The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI)-funded project means the pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines will be given to every child born in Ghana from now on.

It comes as UK medics face sustained opposition to child vaccination, amid fears of side effects and mistrust of the pharmaceutical industry.

Dr K O Antwi-Agyei said a vaccination programme could become a victim of its own success.

The EPI (expanded programme on immunisation) manager for Ghana said: "We used to have a terrible problem with measles.

"When we talk about these diseases being the greatest killers of children, what we are really talking about is babies. They are killers of babies aged a year and under.

"Many babies were dying from measles; we would do our best for them yet they would still die.

"It was a horrible situation - yet a vaccine could and did prevent it.

"It has now been nine years since the last measles death and we are at a transition stage.

"Here, as in the UK, we have new mothers who have never seen the havoc the disease can cause. And when people have no longer seen its effects it is difficult to convince them vaccination is necessary.

"We have to fight it. People must not forget how things have changed."

The latest official figures, from 2008, show pneumonia and diarrhoea-related infections each account for 10 per cent of deaths of children aged under five in Ghana.

Access to healthcare in the tropical nation's rural areas is limited, making the prevention of these diseases by vaccination a priority.

Educating the people of the benefits was as important as the delivery of the medicine itself, Dr Antwi-Agyei said.

"We have anti-vaccination lobbyists go on the radio to say it is from the white man and that it is dangerous and that the vaccines are contaminated.

"It is not true but it scares people.

"We try to tell them vaccination is not a foreign idea.

"Our forefathers used to perform the same thing through scarification. They would wipe concoctions of leaves and soil into the scars to make the children strong and protect them from convulsions.

"Soil is teeming with tetanus so by so doing they were encouraging the children to develop antibodies. They were providing a vaccination even if they did not understand why."

In June last year, Britain pledged £814 million to the GAVI Alliance, a public-private global health partnership which brings together governments with the vaccine industry and philanthropists including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

It was the latest instalment to a pot of approximately £30 billion in foreign aid pledged by the UK over the past 30 years.

GAVI CEO Seth Berkley said: "One of the most interesting things about vaccines is that if you get a very very high coverage rate then a disease disappears.

"Then, if one parent says there is a risk associated with this vaccine and I don't want to get my child vaccinated, then if that parent is not travelling and no one is travelling to see them then that person is in the right because there is no exposure.

"But then there's two, then three, then four, then there's an explosive outbreak."

He added: "In the end, we want to put ourselves out of business. It would be great if we had full vaccination and there was no more need for GAVI to exist."

Community health nurse Diana Ofori, 29, from Obokwahu in Ghana's Eastern Region, said: "We are seeing more and more mothers and babies turning up, and we are seeing less and less sick babies.

"I cannot understand why anyone would oppose a vaccine.

"People can see for themselves that it works."