Nelson Mandela was long imprisoned in South Africa for protesting against apartheid.
After 27 years in prison, he was elected president of the African National Congress (ANC) and eventually became the first elected President of a democratic South Africa.
A lesser known fact is that Nelson Mandela served as Chairman of the Board of Directors for The Vaccine Fund, which provides financial support to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI).
“Giving children a healthy start in life, no matter where they are born or the circumstances of their birth, is the moral obligation of every one of us.
I find it heartbreaking that 3 million people, most of them children, die each year from diseases that we can prevent with simple, inexpensive vaccines. These are children who would have grown up to support their families, their communities, their nations. They would have been productive members of societies that are still developing and need their children to be healthy and strong.
By preventing these deaths, we not only would save children’s lives, but we also would help strengthen communities and contribute to the development of strong and prosperous nations.”
During his time working with the Vaccine Fund, from 2001 to 2004, he worked to get more and more kids vaccinated and protected against vaccine-preventable diseases.
“A world free of unnecessary disease would be a world more able to cope with the realities it cannot change. A world less burdened by preventable disease would be a world of more balance and greater opportunity for all. Because as a society we are only as strong as the sum of our parts, we all suffer loss when 25 percent of our global family is incapacitated, as it is today. We all lose because too many of our children will never have the opportunity to realize their talents, to share their unique gifts, to focus their courage, or to inspire their fellow citizens to shape a better world.”
Before his work at the Vaccine Fund, as President of South Africa, in 1996, Nelson Mandela launched the “Kick Polio Out of Africa” campaign at the Organization of African Unity (OAU) meeting in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
He also committed the OAU to regularly monitoring progress of the campaign, which helped decrease the number of countries with endemic polio in Africa from 34 to just 2 in 6 years!
And it was Nelson Mandela himself that was “hugely influential” in making sure the campaign worked.
Tragically, we missed his goal of a world without polio by 2000…
“Children are our future, they are our best hope, their suffering our worst fear. Parents the world over will lie awake at night with fears and dreams in equal measure for what lies ahead for them. Our actions can help or hinder their development. With the resources that the world has at hand, it is possible to break the cycles of poverty and disease. Starting with immunization, we can reduce the inequities of our world and tackle today’s major epidemics, like HIV/AIDS, so that the next generation has an equal chance of life and health.
Guardians of health, we urge you to take up this challenge: we call on governments and civil groups, organizations of the United Nations system and nongovernmental organizations, philanthropists and responsible corporate citizens, to recognize immunization as a global public good. Meet your moral and financial commitments to the world’s children and make a greater investment in immunization.”
As we get closer to that goal of eradicating polio, we shouldn’t forget that his hard work helped us get there.
We also shouldn’t forget our “moral and financial commitments to the world’s children.”
Let’s continue his work to get them all vaccinated and protected.
What to Know About Nelson Mandela and His Vaccine Advocacy
Nelson Mandela believed in the importance of education, that children should be able to live free from violence and fear, and that they shouldn’t die from diseases that can be easily preventable with vaccines.
More on Nelson Mandela and His Vaccine Advocacy
- The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund
- Biography of Nelson Mandela
- Nelson Mandela Nobel Peace Price 1993
- Nelson Mandela
- Remembering Nelson Mandela, advocate for children’s health
- Remembering Nelson Mandela: A Champion For Children
- Address by Nelson Mandela at Vaccine Conference
- GAVI Alliance Progress Report 2001
- GAVI Alliance Progress Report 2002
- Address by Nelson Mandela at Board Meeting of the Vaccine Fund
- Address by Nelson Mandela at the 2nd annual meeting of the Vaccine Fund Board of Directors
- Address by President Nelson Mandela at the launch of the “Kick Polio Out of Africa” Campaign
- Public statement by Nelson Mandela on HIV vaccine
- The immunization programme that saved millions of lives
- Campaign to kick polio out of Africa
- The man who kicked polio out of Africa
- More than 94 million ‘Say Yes for Children’