Guest blogger William E. Jacobs argues that a shortage of vaccines in Uganda is a violation of the human rights of its citizens, a violation that puts the lives of all Ugandans in jeopardy.
BY WILLIAM ELBER JACOBS
Imagine if you were a woman in Uganda and could not get the vaccine you needed to protect yourself and your child from a deadly disease. The last vaccine against polio was discontinued there in 2011, due to a lack of funding. The pneumonia vaccine has been interrupted for two years because of a lack of resources. This past December, I interviewed breast cancer patients in Kampala for my research. My colleague Margaret Kasa-Ogwal and I felt uncomfortable when we met a woman with breast cancer who had been waiting on a cancer vaccine for so long that she barely held it in. She said, “If I had a vaccination I could treat my disease better and not be suffering so much like this.”
Education Minister Kathleen White has stood up for these women. “My heart breaks to hear these stories and to think how different these people could have lived lives if they had received the vaccines they needed and deserved. One woman we interviewed became so depressed that she took her own life.”
A woman we interviewed spoke about her friend who died of pneumonia when her only option for treatment was now to travel 150 miles for the vaccine. She said, “I cannot imagine how much suffering this friend, my friend, would have felt if she had a vaccine to treat pneumonia.”
It is the people’s right to access these vaccines, and the government’s responsibility to provide them. By placing education and cost-sharing on vaccine programs, the government of Uganda is putting the lives of its citizens at risk.
William E. Jacobs, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of biochemistry and professor of anatomy and pathology at Emory University School of Medicine. His research includes cancer immunology and HIV pathogenesis, microRNAs, human tumor angiogenesis, and pharmacology.