PATH’s Anne Aumell, a member of our Development team, is in Southeast Asia seeing some of the innovative work our generous donors have made possible. Here’s her report on a project that’s making sure newborns receive a lifesaving dose of vaccine against hepatitis B at birth.
Here’s what I know about PATH donors: you often make your first gift because you attended an event or heard about us through Charity Navigator. Here’s what I love about PATH donors: when you take the time to really get to know our work, you give and give again.
PATH’s work is complex, and it takes time to accomplish what we set out to do. I tell donors, “PATH’s in this for the long haul, and I know you are too. Let’s see what we can do together.”
Protection from disease as life begins
In Vietnam, I got to see up close the big work we’re all doing to increase the number of newborns who receive the hepatitis B vaccine birth dose.
By “all,” I mean Dr. Vu Minh Huong, senior team leader, vaccines and immunization, who has advocated tirelessly on behalf of the birth dose for years, and Dr. Pham Trung, the program officer who leads the project. I mean the myriad health officials we met: the secretaries of the National Expanded Programme on Immunization, the community leaders, and the village health workers in Thanh Hoa and Hoa Binh provinces. And I mean PATH donors, particularly Elizabeth Martin and Dr. Ken Fabert, who first learned of this effort when he traveled on a PATH Journeys trip to Vietnam in 2008. Ken and Elizabeth serve as trustees of the Martin-Fabert Foundation. They help make this work possible.
The people of Vietnam have an 8 percent prevalence rate for being infected with the hepatitis B virus. If infected early in life, children have a 90 percent chance of becoming chronic carriers of the virus, putting them at high risk of death from cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. If given the vaccine within 24 hours after birth, 80 to 95 percent of mother-to-child transmissions of the virus can be prevented. Pretty straightforward, right?
Barriers to a birth dose
Dr. Trung and I had the privilege of meeting Ha Thi Doan, a new mother who lives in the village of Xem in Thanh Hoa Province. Xem is 47 kilometers, or nearly 30 miles, from the nearest district hospital. About 5 kilometers of that is rough terrain requiring people to ride a motorbike or walk. I know because I walked it and have the muddy shoes to prove it!
Neither option is ideal when you’re in labor, and because Doan had four healthy prenatal check-ups, she opted for delivering her baby at home. If she is infected with hepatitis B virus, she could infect her child. Most likely Doan’s child will eventually receive vaccine against hepatitis B, but her newborn lost out on that crucial birth dose.
To reach nine of every ten newborns
Economic and transportation barriers like these account for the very low rate of vaccination in some villages, whereas the birth-dose rate in district hospitals is 80 percent.
PATH’s goal is to achieve the 90 percent vaccination rate recommended by the World Health Organization at national and district levels throughout Vietnam. Through our advocacy efforts with the National Expanded Programme on Immunization and our technical assistance to the health officials at the provincial, district, community, and village levels—and because of you, PATH donors—we will achieve this goal. That’s what I know.