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Japanese encephalitis—terrible disease or the hottest new band?

PATH | Aaron Joel Santos

This post is part of the #ProtectingKids blog series. Read the whole series here.

Just last week, Laos launched a nationwide Japanese encephalitis campaign aimed at reaching 1.5 million children.

Hold up. That is a LOT of kids who will now be protected against disease!

None of this would have been possible without Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance which distributed the first round of the Japanese encephalitis vaccine in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, and intends to reach the whole country.

In case you don’t know, Gavi is a public-private partnership that seeks to bring together governments, businesses, and civil society organizations to work together to help increase access to immunization. In January, Gavi hosted a replenishment conference which saw commitments totaling more than $7.5 billion. This month’s launch of the Japanese encephalitis campaign is just one example of these dollars hard at work.

Never heard of Japanese encephalitis? No, it isn’t a sweet new J-pop band. Here’s a quick overview:

Encephalitis, commonly known as “brain fever,” causes inflammation of the brain which can adversely alter behavior and physical capability, resulting in lifelong disability or death. This is Gavi’s first campaign battling Japanese encephalitis in Asia, and the organization has pledged to take nationwide action against the incurable disease.

Because Japanese encephalitis can only be prevented and not cured, the development of the vaccine is expected to have tremendous effects. Anuradha Gupta, Deputy CEO of Gavi explains,

Japanese encephalitis takes a terrible toll on its victims. It has a devastating impact on families who are left helpless as their children often die or are left severely disabled and unable to care for themselves. It is encouraging to see that Lao PDR is taking positive steps to protect its children from the dreadful consequences of JE and I am pleased that Gavi is able to offer its support.”

Gavi’s work is possible thanks to the efforts on the part of global health nonprofit, PATH, which after securing a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2003, spent more than a decade getting the vaccine approved internationally. What’s especially cool is that China, a country that used to receive aid from Gavi, developed and now manufactures this vaccine! This is also China’s first vaccine to be prequalified (basically meaning approved for efficiency and deemed to meet standards) by the World Health Organization.

PATH | Remember to check out PATH's #ProtectingKids series.

In Laos alone, this vaccine is estimated to ultimately reach over 300 million children thanks to Gavi! However, intentions to introduce similar efforts in Cambodia in January 2016 remind us that more work lays ahead.

To ensure more people have access to life-saving vaccines and healthcare, join us in calling on G7 leaders to make strengthening health systems a core priority of the G7 meetings this summer. Sign the petition!