A Shot at Life for Developing Nations
I have stayed out of the debate on vaccinations. My feelings have always been that most parents makes choices for their children’s health with the children’s best interests in mind. The decisions almost always come from a place of love and an over abundance of caution. We make decisions for or against giving our kids vaccinations carefully. And no matter which side of the line you fall on, I respect that process.
My travels have also continued to teach me that we, who live in North America, are incredibly lucky – if for no other reason than the fact that we were born in a part of the world where our choices are sometimes easier than elsewhere. But even when they’re tougher we still have the ability to choose. We can choose whether we educate our kids at school or at home or on a trip around the world; whether we are healthy or not; whether we are devout or atheist; whether we vaccinate or not.
And if we change our minds? Well, then we can choose to do that.
A Shot at Life | World Travel
As a world traveler, vaccinations have always been a part of my life and my children’s lives. There are countries we weren’t allowed to enter unless we could prove we had had certain shots.
There are shots I felt were well worth the risks and shots which – in my opinion – had side effects that outweighed the risks they’d protect against. I made decisions about our vaccinations with the full knowledge that in the worst case scenario if we got sick, I had the luxury to come home where I would have the benefits of an incredible healthcare system on my side.
But I’ve also seen what happens to kids who don’t have the same access to health care: Missing limbs, grieving parents, disfigured bodies and tiny coffins.
Until you’ve been out there and seen it, it can seem surreal. It’s something that doesn’t affect us daily; it’s something that happens “over there.” And whether you’ve been to those far away lands or not, you can become immune to the photos.
A Shot at Life | The Situation
But the facts can’t be denied: Kids are dying in countries around the world from stomach ailments and respiratory illnesses that we cure with a quick trip to a pharmacy for an inhaler or some pepto bismol. They are literally dying from the ravages of diarrhea and measles and polio and pneumonia. And they – kids under the age of 5 – are dying at a rate of 1 every 20 seconds and to the tune of 1.5 million per year.
The parents of those children didn’t opt out of vaccinations. Those parents weren’t provided with a choice to begin with.
They deserve a choice.
A Shot At Life | The Simple Solution
This week I’ve been in Washington DC. I was invited to learn more about the UN Foundation’s Shot At Life campaign which aims to bring awareness and raise funding for countries where these children are dying from vaccine-preventable diseases.
Listening to people who have been on the front lines fighting for these families really hammered the point home.
In Washington I met Dennis Ogbe – diagnosed at age 3 with polio – who spoke about how his paralysis from the waist down affected his childhood. (It’s hard to play soccer or climb a mango tree when your legs don’t work.)
His perseverance – eventually going on to become a Paralympian, working to regain full use of one of his legs, moving to the USA and raising a family of his own – is inspirational and he tells his story with a determination to make sure other kids don’t similarly suffer.
He is a tireless advocate for the cause. And the upshot of his efforts and those of the many others who work to make a difference?
There have been no new cases in Nigeria in six months – a country that until recently was one of three countries in the world still running rampant with the disease.
There are other stories that resonate. Those who have visited projects around the world tell stories about the mothers who walk hundreds of miles to get a vaccine shot for their child, the aid workers who carry vaccines in tiny coolers through flooded communities on the backs of donkeys and the communities they still struggle to reach.
At the conference the Ambassador for Tanzania to the United States spoke of her gratefulness for the work that A Shot at Life and its partner organizations (UN Foundation, Unicef, GAVI and others) do in her country.
She thanked the people in the room for their efforts lobbying congress on Capitol Hill. She asked them to continue their work. These countries want the vaccinations, even the ones that some of us don’t. Who are we who live with the luxury of choice to deny them that right to choose? Who are we to steal their shot at life?
A Shot at Life | Want to help?
If you live in the United States: Let your elected state officials know why you care about ensuring that children in developing countries have access to vaccines, and ask officials to continue to support global immunization programs.
If you live in Canada: Support events like Blogust – the annual blog relay that runs each August. When the list of Blogust bloggers is announced in the fall make an effort to comment and share those posts. Each comment and share provides an immunization for one child in developing countries and helps to turn the internet into a powerful tool for change and advocacy.
Need more information: www.shotatlife.org