The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

UNICEF scientist speaks on link between poverty and disease

A science expert explained to students that there’s an imperative link between poverty and public health threats during a biology seminar Wednesday in Sullivan Hall.

Dr. Henri van den Hombergh, a United Nationals International Emergency Fund (UNICEF) senior advisor on immunization programs, detailed the hazardous connection between diseases and poverty.

“Among the most common consequences for these people living in extreme poverty, infectious diseases do not only cause them physical and mental damages, they also hurt the economy by weakening the health of the country’s workforce,” Dr. Van den Hombergh said.

According to Peter Hotez’s book, Forgotten People, Forgotten Diseases, among 6.6 billion people living on this planet, approximately 1 billion people live on less than $1 per day and 2.7 billion people live on less than $2 per day.

With the support and commitment to eradicating diseases from numerous worldwide public health organizations, help is being carried out.

Regarding immunization programs, efforts have been made to keep the overall immunities of masses up. Celebrities have joined this effort to raise awareness of the importance of vaccination. Another strategy is through learning marketing practices from companies such as Coca-Cola.

“I liked the speaker’s analogy for selling [Coca-Cola], and to me it means marketing in poorer countries for vaccination may be a good strategy,” Dr. Irvin Hirshfield, an associate professor, said.

However, there are still more challenges at hand.

“I was particularly struck by the speaker’s focus on gender issues as they relate to the efficacy of vaccination programs,” Dr. Timothy Carter, professor of biological sciences, said. “Since vaccination begins in very early childhood and mothers are universally the primary caregivers of young children, the fact that many women are also critically important wage-earners in poor nations often restricts their access to clinics where vaccinations are administered. Most can’t afford to lose a day’s wages, which is often the case when they seek out these services.”

Nikita Sumzin, a biology major, raised his concerns about the on-going anti-vaccine mentality.

“It’s very easy to read a meme on Facebook in a matter of seconds and get turned off by some vaccine scare related to MMR (Measles, Mumps, & Rubella) or HPV (Human papillomavirus), but it requires a significant amount of time and critical thinking capacity to read and dispel bad science,” Sumzin said. “Avoiding cancer screenings is a risk that affects one individual. Avoiding vaccinations for pediatric patients doesn’t just affect the children, but endangers everyone in contact with them. That is a whole other level of recklessness and irresponsibility.”

Within an hour lecture, the audience was exposed to the complexity as well as rewarding aspects of global public health work. The most important aspect from this lecture was how the diseases and poverty are associated.

Hirshfield, who is also a senior research fellow at the Vincentian Center, emphasized its importance.

“The work of Dr. Van den Hombergh is in line with a major mission of St. John’s, which is to combat poverty,” Hirshfield said.

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