“Children’s voices are the silent majority, somebody must speak for them.” Joan Awunyo-Akaba, PhD, has been crusading and advocating for children for most of her career. From her time as a midwife, focused on delivering healthy and strong babies, all the way through to her current role as a board member of the GAVI Alliance where she represents community advocates. GAVI, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations, uses its mass buying power to negotiate prices and make vaccines more affordable for the countries that need them most.
Joan visited Washington DC earlier this year, and spent several days building support for GAVI’s work. “I believe passionately that vaccines save the lives of children.” She studied as a nurse in Liverpool in 1969, then continued with midwifery. She returned to her home, Ghana, in 1976, ultimately resigning at the top of her career in 1994 to establish Future Generations International. The nonprofit focuses on helping lift children and women out of poverty — sending kids to school, getting them immunized and supporting family life.
Open Our Eyes and Make Friends
Joan’s work led her to being a child’s rights advocate. “I know the passion that drives me. It’s a joy being a mother and grandmother, but I have nightmares of my children not being well. I want mothers around the world to open their eyes and look around. There are so many other children and other mothers out there who just need a little encouragement and to hear your voice.”
“Being a public nurse, I’ve had that space to interact with mothers through my work. There was a woman who came to our clinic and came to me for counseling. The nurses had just told her she wasn’t a good mother because her daughter was on the verge of malnutrition. This mother was a nutritionist and had tried for 10 years to have a baby. She told me, ‘This child is so precious to me. But she won’t eat.’ This woman became a dear friend to me as we walked together through these critical periods and for her to learn how to boost the little food the child would eat so it had maximum impact. She even named her second child after me.”
Joan continued, “We need to find time to make friends with the mother sitting next to us, who doesn’t look so happy. Be curious. I look for children and engage their mothers, and sort of just barge in! We have problems all around, but we must open our eyes and look. Mothers can be too cautious and worry they will offend the next person, but no one is an island.”
Her next mission is help make sure GAVI’s work is fully supported by governments around the world who have committed to it. “We must support the children who are left out. Society must push harder. Some of the vaccines we need most, to fight rotavirus and pneumonia for example, are expensive. When we graduate from GAVI subsidies, Ghana will need $100 million alone to buy vaccines each year.”
We asked Joan what drives her: “My grandson will know that his Grandma was responsible or played a key role in an immunization sustainability fund for Ghana and the whole of Africa. I want him to know that all the children who will be born after I die will have access to vaccines. We need these children – they are the future of the development of their country. If they have the access to good education and medicine and opportunities – then the child of the remotest community can become the next Kofi Annan of the global arena.”
Take Action Challenge
Joan has spent her life raising her voice. Read more of her story from our partners at the ONE campaign. You can sign up with the [email protected] campaign and add your voice to Joan’s, to invite US government leaders to maintain their commitments to GAVI and to making sure children get the vaccines they need.
Image, courtesy of RESULTS.