Behind the story

On the road with Gavi - The Vaccine Alliance

State of emergency

A national public health emergency was declared in Papua New Guinea on June 26, 2018 after the first outbreak of vaccine-derived poliovirus in the country in nearly 20 years. Low immunisation rates for all vaccines, poor water sanitation and hygiene were contributing factors to the outbreak, which sparked fears for other vaccine-preventable diseases.

The response

Gavi -The Vaccine Alliance, acted quickly to mobilise over 2900 health workers, vaccinators and volunteers. Gavi’s goal was to vaccinate almost 300,000 children under five-years-old across the Morobe, Madang and Eastern Highland regions. Four rounds of supplementary immunisation activity (SIA) was organised to take place from July to October 2018, with the first round scheduled to start on July 16.

Gavi was created in 2000 to create equal access to new and underused vaccines for children living in the world’s poorest countries, by bringing together the public and private sectors.

The immunisation launched in PNG builds on Gavi’s existing work in the country. In August 2016, PNG introduced the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV), which protects children from the polio virus, and – unlike oral polio vaccine (OPV) – cannot lead to vaccine-derived polio.

In November 2017 Gavi and the PNG government agreed to strengthen routine immunisation in the country between 2018 to 2020. As part of this agreement, Gavi will provide PNG with a package of more than $U20 million in support of cold chain infrastructure, health systems strengthening, immunisation service delivery, technical assistance and campaign support.

First round immunisations

Australian Associated Press (AAP) were invited to accompany Gavi CEO, Dr Seth Berkley, during his visit to PNG between July 23 - 25. Experienced photographer Brendan Esposito represented AAP, capturing the colour and culture of the Papuan people, and the important work being carried out by Gavi in lower-income countries across the world. The main objective of the visit was to observe health services being delivered, specifically the immunisation sessions. We spoke to Brendan about his experience:

AAP: Part of the reason AAP became involved with Gavi was because of your experience as a photojournalist in conflict zones. Can you tell us more about this?

Brendan Esposito: I was approached by an agency representing Gavi who’d seen my work capturing humanitarian issues across multiple conflict zones. At the time they approached me I had commitments with AAP, which would have prevented me from going. I reached out to picture editor, Sam (Mooy), and photo business manager, Dan (Wigmore), to see if AAP was interested in getting involved. The work Gavi is doing in PNG and in other low-income countries is such a worthy cause - I was prepared to fight for the ability to capture it. Luckily, AAP got on board as soon as I told them about it, working to make sure we got the job and I got the assignment.

AAP: Your images are very emotive, what do you think allows you to capture such depth?

BE: I think it’s having empathy for the subject and what they’re going through. It’s an absolute privilege that people allow me to capture them at their most raw and in emotionally charged situations.

AAP: You’re clearly passionate about capturing the human condition. What is it about shooting this type of assignment that you enjoy?

BE: AAP has some fantastic journalists who use words to tell important stories and raise awareness about important issues. My photos are my words. With photojournalism I create imagery to represent the voice of people who wouldn’t normally have one, to help get the word out about what’s going on in the world.

AAP: What were the challenges of filming in the location?

BE: PNG has a bit of a reputation for being dangerous and we did have security to protect us while we were working, but, honestly, I never felt threatened. I actually feel at home in what some people would consider dangerous environments. My biggest challenge was capturing images that would satisfy AAP and the more commercial needs of the clients. We wanted to get those shots what were more photojournalistic in style but when we were on the ground I also had to capture more marketing based images for use in local education posters and leaflets.

AAP: You’ve got a great shot of Dr Seth Berkley meeting with local leaders, what’s your impression of their relationship with Gavi?

BE: We had representatives from the most important players in global health initiatives - Gavi, the World Health Organisation and UNICEF. Their relationship with each other and local leaders is very collaborative. The polio virus has been diagnosed in some of the most remote areas of PNG and these world health leaders were there to work together to ensure they headed it off before it spreads.

AAP: How well informed are the local population about vaccines and their importance?

BE: The PNG population in these remote areas has a high illiteracy level, but as a result of the local Gavi representatives people are well educated in the importance of having their children vaccinated. This was the challenging aspect of the assignment, it was important to capture images that could illustrate the vaccine story to people who couldn’t read.

AAP: The colour of the images really stand out and is different to what we’re used to seeing from NGO’s - why is this?

BE: I’ve shot stories in PNG numerous times and one of the first things you notice is the colour. I’ve spent a lot of time shooting stories like this in black and white, so it was great that Gavi wanted to capture the colour and the culture of the Papuan people. It does add an extra level of complexity to the picture, not only are you looking for the shot, you’re also looking for the colour composition.

View the full image gallery from Brendan's trip here.

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