My take: Science, faith communities unite to protect millions from disease
A Somali boy is vaccinated at a refugee camp in Kenya.
February 7th, 2013
09:51 AM ET

My take: Science, faith communities unite to protect millions from disease

Editor's note: Dagfinn Høybråten is a vice president of the Norwegian Parliament and chairman of the GAVI Alliance Board. GAVI is a public-private partnership that works with governments, vaccine producers, faith-based organizations and others to expand access to vaccines and immunization. Since its launch in 2000, GAVI has helped immunize 370 million children in the poorest countries.

By Dagfinn Høybråten, Special to CNN

Despite their political, religious and ethnic differences, leaders from around the world are coming together for today's National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. As they do, it is worth noting that faith and science are also coming together around the world to promote healing and equality in the form of access to vaccines.

Vaccines are a triumph of science due to their incredible capacity to save lives and protect health. Yet vaccines reach only four out of five children who need them. To reach the fifth child, science has found an important partner in the faith community, which helps bring vaccines to the most remote areas and the children who need them most.

Zambia is one example. It is one of the first African countries to adopt the human papillomavirus vaccine, which is given to girls so that when they mature as women, cervical cancer will no longer be what it is today: the most common cancer affecting Zambian women. It kills some 1,300 Zambian women each year (PDF), according to the World Health Organization.

Rural churches across the country worked with the government to find and vaccinate groups of girls on Sunday mornings, ensuring that even girls in the most remote villages received the vaccine. Community and religious leaders are committed to reaching all eligible girls with these life-saving inoculations.

In Pakistan, senior clerics have worked with the government to assure parents that vaccinations against polio are in keeping with their devotion to Islam.

LDS Charities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints funded a $16.4 million measles and rubella initiative and supported it with 64,000 volunteers who have provided more than 800,000 hours of service in 37 countries. Mormon volunteers in Ghana, for example, arranged for 1.5 million text messages to be sent to fellow citizens in support of the country’s launch of vaccines against pneumonia and rotavirus, two diseases that together claim the lives of more than 2 million children around the world every year.

Over the past century, vaccines have helped lower the child mortality rate in many European and North American countries from well over 200 deaths for every 1,000 births to fewer than 10. But a lack of vaccines is a key reason high child mortality rates persist in many resource-poor countries of Asia and Africa.

We will make good on the promise of vaccines only when we cover the last, and hardest, mile. The last mile may lead to a child in a forest village, a refugee camp, a tiny island, a city under siege. The challenge of reaching such children is both daunting and surmountable. Lack of infrastructure — roads, electricity, refrigeration — can make it daunting. Political will, public support and the involvement of compassionate, capable partners make it surmountable.

This is where we are fortunate to have leaders from the faith community who so quickly grasp the simple but profound moral imperative of immunizing children to ensure that they have a chance to live and to grow up healthy. The mission of the GAVI Alliance (formerly the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation) and all of our partners is to get life-saving vaccines to every child, everywhere. Our focus is on the world’s poorest countries, where the disease burden is greatest. Faith-based organizations are a vital and growing part of our global effort to end childhood deaths from preventable diseases.

Our mission is huge: We aim to immunize another 250 million children and prevent 4 million deaths by 2015. To do this, we will work to ensure that 50 countries introduce the pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines by 2015 and that many more countries complete the work of vaccinating children against diseases like measles and rubella, diphtheria and pertussis — diseases practically written on the headstones of small graves in cemeteries across the continents.

Faith-based organizations are critical partners. They share fundamental values of compassion, human dignity and respect for the individual and families. And they have always ministered to the sick and comforted the dying.

According to the WHO, an estimated 30% to 70% of health care delivery in Africa is provided by faith-based organizations and faith institutions. They also provide education and training for a significant portion of health workers, especially nurses and midwives. These women and men are among those on the front lines of vaccine delivery.

Communities of faith are present virtually everywhere, active in every country and often active in the poorest, most remote and unstable regions. In addition, religious leaders often have the stature to advocate and negotiate with the most senior national decision-makers as countries make tough decisions on how to allocate scarce resources for health.

With the tools in hand that save lives, action is a moral imperative. Immunization is one of the most cost-effective health interventions ever known for lowering childhood deaths and disease. It is a right that must be guaranteed for all children, and faith-based organizations are crucial to ensuring this right.

On this day, we offer a prayer of thanks that so many people of faith have chosen to join us in the spirit that animates so many religions: the golden rule to do unto others what you would like them to do unto you, and a belief in equity, charity, and the elimination of unnecessary suffering in the world.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dagfinn Høybråten.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Africa • Asia • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints • Faith & Health • Ghana • Health • Health care • Pakistan • Zambia

soundoff (251 Responses)
  1. Hmmmm?

    Science just proves that God exists........a big bang could NOT have created so many complex things. When scientists find out there is a God everyone then says hes gone Mad! Sound Familiar??? Einstein?

    February 11, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
  2. niknak

    My take: Religion piggybacks on science's discoveries to try to remain relevent in a modern world.

    February 9, 2013 at 1:39 am |
  3. Saraswati

    And on the other side, nine vaccinators killed after Muslim clerics whip up anti-vaccine sentiment:


    February 8, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
    • Akira

      In Nigeria. Shame on them!

      February 8, 2013 at 3:59 pm |
  4. Francis

    If you have faith, you don't need a vaccine.

    February 8, 2013 at 10:34 am |
    • Terry

      LOL That statement is the height of ignorance. Surely you jest.

      February 8, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
  5. meifumado

    You do not need religion or "faith" to administer vaccines.

    February 8, 2013 at 9:55 am |
    • Funny Atheist

      We know!!

      February 8, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
  6. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Pray without ceasing
    Prayer changes things

    February 8, 2013 at 7:11 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!.

      February 8, 2013 at 8:10 am |
  7. Funny Atheist

    C hu c kle s
    So women liked being rap ed by Vi ki n gs, huh?

    February 8, 2013 at 2:13 am |
    • Funny Atheist

      Why is it that Aheists try so hard to exclude xtians on this board whenever they make false claims as above and we call them out on it.
      Sincerely Nii
      ps I had to change my handle so that no one will say I ran away after blocking my handle.

      February 8, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
  8. Mohammed Akram

    "In Pakistan, senior clerics have worked with the government to assure parents that vaccinations against polio are in keeping with their devotion to Islam." lair lair lair. Taliban are know to kidnap or kill UN healthcare workers in Pakistan opposing polio vaccination. So I take whole article by this guy is just filled misinformation and lies.

    February 7, 2013 at 9:33 pm |
    • Funny Atheist

      Taiban is not the only Muslim sect in Pakistan. I am Xtian n I know this. I wonder why?

      February 8, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
  9. Irrational Exuberance

    At least some of them have grown past their prior "Vaccines go against God's will" mindsets.

    February 7, 2013 at 8:17 pm |
  10. Truth

    Science will trump religion in the end. The younger generations are forgoing the radical extremism of their parents and grandparents and embracing hard facts and evidence. Only when the last religious man shall pass away, shall this planet enjoy the fruits of peace.

    Science and Atheism = peace.
    Religion = war, hate, bigotry, oppresion.

    Claim whatever you want, your "god" is nothing but an excuse to murder.

    February 7, 2013 at 8:16 pm |
    • Poltergeist

      Really? because when Athiest talk about all these 'wars' going on they usually end up 400 years back in the crusades. Or they are quoting the founding fathers for their anti-religious views... Wait those guys started a war. Well that's ok because once countries adopted Athiesm officially they are at peace. Except for Cambodia and Pol pot, or Mao, or Castro, or Kim, or err Stalin...

      To make such a statement, when reality has already shown contrary examples, well that's madness.

      February 7, 2013 at 11:02 pm |
    • The Truth

      Almost every war throughout history including the ones right up to today have had religion playing an integral part, that of spreading propaganda in support of their side and dehumanizing the opposing side along with absolving the soldiers of the guilt and blood that is hard to avoid in war. The internet will not give you the figures on how many people have died in anguish fully believing God was on their side and that they were fighting in his name or at least in his honor, defending their national religion as much as they did their lands from other soldiers who had been told essentially the same story on the other side. And i'm not just talking Crusades here, i'm talking about India & Pakistan, Iraq & Iran, Israel & Palestine, US & Iraq/Afghanistan. Anyone with half a brain can see how faith and patriotism have been used hand in hand to manipulate countries into war for thousands of years and at this point there is no sign they will ever stop.

      February 8, 2013 at 3:46 am |
    • Poltergeist

      I see you added patriotism. Which is the only real factor that's constant.

      Despite having different faiths for thousands of years, India and Pakistan were at peace until 1947, so were the Muslims in the Middle East. Even then those arent true religious conflicts like the crusades, where people marched for the church. All of the official Athiest states that have formed so far have had major territorial ambitions as well.

      Virtually every conflict can be boiled down to territorial disputes. To prove the point, scientist gave demonstrated even Monkies go to war when resources between two groups are stressed. War is a part of humanity. Which is why no leader religious, athiest, or otherwise has been able to avoid it.


      February 8, 2013 at 8:13 am |
    • Francis

      Science is hard fact? Than why haven't they found any evidence of God? Failing to prove the obvious makes me doubt the whole thing.

      February 8, 2013 at 10:36 am |
  11. bostontola

    In the US we regard science and religion as being at loggerheads. I bet it's primarily religion US style that is at loggerheads with science. All the Europeans I know that are religious completely accept evolution, vaccines, etc. The only reason for this unnecessary split is fundamentalism. Fundamentalists don't even like other sects of their own religion. Too bad fundamentalism works, it is used by leaders to subjugate it's followers and highly motivates them.

    February 7, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
    • Over 30,000 denominations of insanity

      Boston: "Fundamentalists don't even like other sects of their own religion."

      Yep – that's what these dudes were saying 200 years ago:

      Thomas Jefferson (POTUS #3, principle author of the Declaration of Independence)

      Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.

      John Adams (POTUS #2, Patriot of the American Revolution)

      I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved – the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced! With the rational respect that is due to it, knavish priests have added prostitutions of it, that fill or might fill the blackest and bloodiest pages of human history.

      James Madison (POTUS #4, chief architect of the U.S. Constitution & the Bill of Rights)

      During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.

      Thomas Paine (Patriot of the American Revolution)

      I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church. All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

      February 7, 2013 at 7:32 pm |
    • Poltergeist

      @Over Its interesting you listed individuals responsible for starting a war.

      February 7, 2013 at 11:04 pm |
  12. Science

    To Bill Deacon

    Science Facts

    Check your god(S) at the cave enterance before entering.. No god(s) required for studying humans on this thread
    Talking snake not in cave.

    updated 1 hour 55 minutes ago
    Jan. 29 2013

    Scientists have unearthed and dated some of the oldest stone hand axes on Earth. The ancient tools, unearthed in Ethiopia in the last two decades, date to 1.75 million years ago.


    Ancient DNA reveals humans living 40,000 years ago in Beijing area related to present-day Asians, Native Americans January 21, 2013

    Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-01-ancient-dna-reveals-humans-years.html#jCp

    February 7, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      I appreciate the attention but what is your point? That archeology continues?

      February 7, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
    • Science

      Better than the talking snake and his mate the donkey.

      February 7, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      You seem a little veiled but I was actually thinking about your repeated post on the talking snake. So, if I am interpreting you correctly you think the talking snake in the garden is improbable. My question is this; have you ever had a thought snake through your mind? Perhaps a thought you knew was wrong but you couldn't get it out. Maybe you were even compelled to take action on it? Maybe that's a talking snake.

      February 7, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
    • Science


      February 7, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
    • Science

      News Release Jan 30 2013

      3-D structure of the evolved enzyme (an RNA ligase), using 10 overlaid snapshots. In the top region, the overlays show the range of bending and folding flexibility in the amino acid chain that forms the molecule. The two gray balls are zinc ions. (University of Minnesota)

      University of Minnesota researchers unveil first artificial enzyme created by evolution in a test tube

      Going forward, Seelig plans to create enzymes with useful applications while he continues to explore the underlying basic science of enzyme structure and function, aiming to learn more about the origin of enzymes and how proteins evolve.

      "Enzymes have always fascinated me," he says. "It’s rewarding to do work that has practical applications yet provides the opportunity to better understand how life on earth evolved."


      February 7, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
    • Poltergeist

      You do understand that RNA ligase is just a single enzyme that catalyzes certain reactions in RNA synthesis and isn't actually comprised of RNA?

      You do understand that protiens, like prions, and replicating enzymes are capable of limited evolution, but aren't actually alive right?

      February 7, 2013 at 11:19 pm |
    • Science


      February 8, 2013 at 4:17 am |
    • Science

      Does not need or want a wedgie ok


      February 8, 2013 at 6:22 am |
    • Poltergeist

      *facepalm* what I'm saying is ligase isn't genetic material. It doesn't hold any information for making life. It just creates bonds in RNA as its replicated. Need a techpriest to help keep it straight? ;D

      February 8, 2013 at 8:24 am |
    • redzoa

      @Poltergeist – Not precisely sure of the intent of the original evolved ligase post or your response, but is it safe to say that this study, as with other in vitro evolution research, is proof of concept, i.e. random variation and selection can and does yield novel functionality?

      February 9, 2013 at 1:57 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.