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PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti — Measles, mumps and polio are diseases that have largely been eradicated in the U.S. In the developing world, however, most parents often can't afford to get shots for their children.
As with any nation, the future of Haiti lies in its children. While scores died in the earthquake, and thousands still live in tent cities, Port Au Prince is slowly rising from the rubble, and two years after the earthquake life is getting back to normal.
These vaccinations are a symbol of how far Haiti has come. In the next two weeks, they hope to vaccinate 95 percent of the children under the age of 10, or about 3 million kids. Pulling off something of this scale requires a lot of organization and a lot of infrastructure, and it wouldn't be possible in a nation still buried under rubble.
Less than 60 percent of Haitian children have been vaccinated, making them vulnerable to childhood killers, which can sweep through populations quickly.
"What a Haitian mother feels about her baby is exactly the same as what an American or European mother feels about her baby," said Raul Gonzalez with the Pan American Health Organization.
What a Haitian mother feels about her baby is exactly the same as what an American or European mother feels about her baby.
–Raul Gonzalez, Pan American Health Organization
What prevents parents in poor countries from getting their kids vaccinated? Education, and cost. That is why public health organizations and private charities, as well as groups like the LDS Church, partnered with the Haitian government over the last two weeks to help cover the expense, and to spread the word. We saw volunteers all over Port Au Prince, trekking down narrow streets in some of the poorest slums trying to reach every parent in the country.
"I've never been involved in anything as powerful as vaccines because you know for sure that the results of what you're doing, the results of your efforts achieve the highest goal, which is the protection of human life," said Dagfinn Høybråten, chair of the GAVI Alliance
Parents were lined up for hours in the hot sun to make sure their kids got their shots for measles and mumps, diseases that have begun to appear in the tent cities around Port Au Prince.
"A long journey begins with a single step, a cathedral is built brick by brick, children of Haiti will be protected, an individual child vaccinated by…no shortcuts," said Kevin De Cock, director CDC Center for Global Health.
Nor are there any shortcuts on the road to recovery for Haiti. Vaccinating children is a small step in that road back, experts say, but healthy children also hold the promise of a more stable and productive population going forward.