I'm sure you have been following the medical cases in California where state health officials are tracking as many as 25 children who are displaying "polio-like" symptoms. Although these children do not suffer from polio, their deteriorating condition brings to the forefront the devastation that polio can cause for pockets of our world's children.
Polio is a highly infectious virus spread by person to person contact. In environments with poor levels of hygiene and water, the virus has an easy vehicle to infect people. Most people infected with the virus have no signs of illness and are never aware they have been infected. These symptomless individuals carry the virus in their body and can silently spread it to thousands of others before the first case of polio paralysis emerges.
At its peak in the 1950s, polio paralyzed up to 20,000 people a year in the U.S., mostly children. Widespread immunization efforts wiped out the disease in the U.S. Fast forward 50+ years and polio still remains endemic in three countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.
I have received emails from Shot@Life supporters following the national news coverage of these unfortunate cases in California. You all want to know: What does this mean for polio globally? First, it is important to remember that these cases are not polio cases, but they do serve as an unfortunate reminder that it wasn't too long ago that polio was still affecting children in the U.S. and we must continue to educate Americans about the need for polio vaccinations worldwide.
We are so close to eradicating this disease Use this national awareness to educate your local community on the importance of supporting global polio vaccinations. Contact your local opinion editors and let them know you have a perspective on this issue. I look forward to a time when everyone in the world can think of polio as a "thing of the past".
Back in 2011, GAVI Alliance was challenged with ambitious goals. Partners and donors tasked the Alliance with immunising 370 million children in the poorest countries in the world and averting 4 million future deaths by 2015. Halfway through the 2011-2015 period, the same partners and donors gathered in Stockholm, in Sweden, on 30th October to review the progress made to date. Thanks to an unprecedented scale up in activities, our stakeholders were able to conclude that the Alliance is well on its way to meeting its bold targets.
But we were also facing a different challenge. As we started to tell partners about our progress, many commented that while we were "delivering together" on the promises made in 2011, we were also not doing quite enough to let the world know about these successes. So we reached out. In the months leading to the Stockholm meeting, a number of partners such as the United Nations Foundation, ONE, Gates Foundation, the World Bank and World Vision lent their digital platforms to carry the immunisation success stories of this daily fight against childhood diseases. Many news media in the US, UK, France, Sweden and in implementing countries such as Ghana, added context and a critical view to these successes. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reminded us that more has to be done to reach the 20 million children that currently don't have access to the most basic vaccines, Save the Children issued its own report reviewing GAVI’s progress, and Action produced a scorecard to analyse our achievements and pledges. These joint efforts to inform and review deserve our gratitude, and they will also serve as inspiration in the time to come.
As we look at completing the 2015 objective of saving 4 million lives while setting new and more ambitious goals for 2020, more creative ideas will be needed from GAVI Alliance partners to keep our audiences moved, challenged, interested and engaged. The word is out, it’s now our task to continue this year’s momentum by sharing more inspiring immunisation stories than ever before. This way, by 2015 we’ll have presented a clear picture of the demands, necessity and incredible impact of large-scale immunisation, and of why slowing down now is unacceptable.
If we can do this, we will also never lose sight of what lies at the heart of GAVI’s achievements so far: the amazing work conducted with vaccines in the world’s poorest countries every day, where healthcare providers are saving lives, one child and one village at a time.
On September 15, my son, Noah, celebrated his third birthday.
In the midst of the party balloons, train-shaped cookies and chocolate cake, I thought of another reason for parents to celebrate around the world. The child mortality rate has been cut in half.
According to a report from UNICEF, 6.6 million children under five died last year – down from 12.6 million in 1990. Even though this is amazing progress, children are still succumbing to malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea. We still have work to do in saving children from preventable diseases.
While lighting Noah’s cake, I was reminded of the many more candles we can put on birthday cakes around the world. How can you help today?
Let's get this number even lower and let more children celebrate more fun birthdays.
The flutters of movement, then the obvious kicks from the life beating inside of me. I was afraid. Afraid of the unknown. The uncertainty of whether I was ready to become a mother, unsure of how to care for myself and the life that waited to arrive. I sang to her in my tummy each day. Willing her to respond to the sound of my voice. And when she did, I breathed a sigh of relief.
When I saw her face for the first time, I instantly felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility. It was now mine and my husband’s job to provide the best care for our firstborn daughter. We checked for ten fingers and toes and celebrated the life of our child…until Day 3.
After we were released from the hospital, we took our little one to her first pediatrician appointment on the third day after her birth. Our hearts sank as we were informed that she must be readmitted into the hospital for jaundice. We were crushed as we walked into the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) to hand over our precious baby.
Only four short months ago, I was reminded of that feeling when I met Baby Harriett during a life-changing trip to Uganda, Africa with the United Nations Foundation’s – Shot@Life Campaign. I held her tiny and frail five month old body in my arms during a visit to her home shared by her Grandmother Rosemary, father Brian and his sisters. As she rested in my arms, it reminded me of holding my little girl for the first time. You see, although Baby Harriett was five months old, she was as light as a feather, the weight of a newborn.
Baby Harriett’s mother, Sheila, left the care of her daughter with Rosemary and Brian to further her education to become a nurse. Although commendable, Sheila’s choice left little Harriett severely malnourished due to the lack of breast milk. Sadly, this beautiful child was also left without the proper newborn vaccinations she should have received at birth.
I joined friends of mine from Shot@Life as as we watched Baby Harriett receive her vaccinations, health screening and birth registry provided by UNICEF Uganda during Healthy Family Days after their church services. As I observed the healthcare workers measure Harriett’s tiny little arms, I gasped as her nutrition was confirmed to be in the danger zone. I cried as they placed the needle in what very little meat her skin had to reduce the impact of the painful vaccinations.
I felt the pain of Baby Harriett’s tears as they fell from her eyes which had just moments before shown with brightness. I wanted to hold her again to console her and somehow help her understand that all of the pain was to save her life! She was being given the gift of a future that so many other children don’t receive.
Just as I had the privilege of taking my firstborn daughter to the NICU to receive care 10 years ago, I still have the choice of both of my girls receiving vaccinations. NEVER has this choice been more important than after I shared that day with precious Baby Harriett.
Each time my girls hit a milestone, I think of Baby Harriett and what her life will be like as a result of the gift she was given that day.
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