Barrett: You should thank your lucky shots



Tom Barrett

Who doesn’t remember being little and dreading those awful trips to the doctor’s office to get shots?

We would sit there on those uncomfortable paper sheets with our legs anxiously swinging and dangling. Then the doctor would come in and ask us to roll up our sleeves.

He’d swab our arms with alcohol, and then we’d clutch our mommy’s or daddy’s hand even tighter. Then the dripping needle would make its way to our shoulder, and we’d squeeze our eyes shut until the couple-second sting went away.

We’d open our eyes, realize we were still alive and smile at the nice little crayon-shaped Band-Aid covering our invisible wound.

What most of us probably didn’t understand was why we were getting these shots. We didn’t know that the microscopic bacterial cells we were being injected with would protect us from some of the world’s most deadly diseases. We came to the measles, the mumps, polio and the like as extinct enemies of the past that have been successfully exterminated by the marvels of modern medicine.

For the most part, this childhood assumption we held seemed true. After all, who did we know that would prove otherwise?

Many of us still hold these assumptions and see these microbial predators as things of the past, but this is hardly the case.

Just because these diseases have been largely eliminated in the United States does not mean that they do not run rampant in other parts of the world.

According to the World Health Organization, 242,000 people around the globe died from measles in 2006, most of whom lived in developing regions.

In the United States, many infants do not leave the hospital for the first time without receiving a Hepatitis B vaccine, but rates of infection for this disease are exceptionally high. Between 8 and 10 percent of the populations in sub-Saharan Africa, most of Asia and the Pacific are chronically infected.

Hidden from our sights, as well, are many other treatable diseases still ruining far too many lives.

Tuberculosis is a deadly and highly infectious disease that typically attacks the lungs. Infected individuals get high fevers and cough up blood for weeks.

Despite the fact that treatment for tuberculosis costs as little as $10, roughly 8.8 million people around the world are infected, more than 85 percent of whom are in the developing world.

Malaria is transmitted by mosquito bites, and simply having a decent place to live – or even a bed net to cover people while they sleep – significantly reduces one’s chance of getting it. However, 500 million people worldwide still contract the disease, and despite the fact that the average treatment costs between $2-$5, malaria still kills about 3,000 African children every day, according to

Even a disease most of us think hasn’t been a problem since the New Testament days affects thousands every year, as leprosy still exists in the poorest and most destitute regions of the world.

Leprosy is easily curable and only those living in the most wretched squalor can be affected, but there were still 410,000 new reported cases of the flesh-consuming disease, according to WHO.

Most of these diseases plaguing the developing world are both easily preventable and highly treatable yet the impoverished conditions millions live in worldwide perpetuate the lethality of these infectious microbes.

There is hope in this dire situation, though, as efforts to spread treatment for these diseases have proven extremely effective.

According to WHO, 14 million leprosy patients have been cured over the past 20 years, and measles cases and deaths have fallen by 91 percent between 2000 and 2006 in Africa.

The potential for success in combating these treatable illnesses is realized through the joint efforts of various governments and non-governmental organizations such as WHO and the Red Cross.

The problem is that these diseases still exist despite the fact that they have been proven cost-effectively treatable.

While we tend to think that those trips to the doctor’s office are a staple of every kid’s childhood, this simply isn’t the case for many people throughout the world.

Too many children still suffer from deadly illnesses that can be prevented or cured with a simple shot or a few pills.

We have the means and the power to see the ends of these diseases, but the question is whether we really want to.

In 2000, the United States signed the U.N. Millennium Development Goals and pledged to contribute a small fraction of its GDP every year toward eliminating poverty and deadly illnesses worldwide.

Our government has failed to deliver on these promises, and unless we hold our elected officials accountable, the MDGs will be nothing but a joke.

These diseases should not exist anywhere today, and the fact that they do is morally repugnant.

It is our responsibility to give millions of children the chance to make that dreaded trip to the doctor’s office.


Tom Barrett is a junior philosophy major from Colonia, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected].