Travelling around Madagascar with a group of journalists and UNICEF colleagues, I’m struck by how many people are receiving the pentavalent vaccine and the lengths they are going to get it.
This life-saving pentavalent vaccine protects against a handful of deadly diseases and the percentage of infants here who receive basic immunisation has risen from 57 percent in 2000 to 78 percent in 2009, according to WHO / UNICEF figures.
Droughts, cyclones, and political instability complicate poverty reduction in Madagascar, an enormous island in the Indian Ocean most famous for its wildlife.
But in the rural south, where much of our travel is along dirt roads, a group of women are sitting patiently with their babies in the shade, away from the midday heat. Some have trekked through the tall yellow grass from as far as 18km away, taking care to avoid the bandits.
But then, many mothers, like Tahiri, have lost other children to vaccine-preventable diseases and are glad they can now protect their children.
“I had a two-year-old and a three-year-old child and they both got sick and died,” she said.
Around the world, vaccine preventable diseases kill an estimated 1.7 million children every year, about a fifth of all child deaths worldwide.
But more and more babies in the developing world receive life-saving vaccinations and getting vaccinated depends less and less on the country where you were born. With GAVI support, 230 million children in developing countries will receive the pentavalent vaccine by 2015.
In Madagascar, the pentavalent vaccine is having impressive impact, says Hanintsoa Rakotoarimanga, a medic.
But, talking to journalists at the end of a busy morning, she can’t remember whether it protects against five or six, or even seven deadly diseases.
In fact the pentavalent vaccine protects against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B, and Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib). But - killing more than quarter of a million children every year - Hib is a major cause of pneumonia and meningitis.
“And since we started to use the pentavalent vaccine, we have seen much less cases of pneumonia and meningitis,” Hanintsoa says.
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