That may be hard to imagine, but it's true, and one of the more chilling facts I heard during the days I was in Washington, D.C. last week as part of a Global Issues Fellowship and a delegate for Shot@Life. It's a campaign to educate and connect Americans to champion vaccines to save the lives of children in developing nations. Many of you contributed when I was part of their Blogust initiative in August; for every comment made, a child received a vaccine. Thanks to you, the campaign gathered more than 36,000 vaccinations. You saved thousands of children's lives.
Every year, 1.5 million children die from vaccine-preventable diseases including pneumonia, diarrhea and whooping cough. That's one child dead every 20 seconds. One in seven children in Sub-Saharan Africa dies before his fifth birthday. Countless more end up disabled.
As parents of kids with special needs, our heads and hearts can be strained to the max. And yet:
We know what it's like to fight for those who can't fight for themselves.
Children in developing countries may seem a world away to some, but we know that children who seem so different than others really aren't.
We know that every child deserves a shot at good health. A shot at life, no matter where they live.
These thoughts spun arpimd my head throughout my time in D.C. We heard from top experts on global health issues, including maternal care. I found out that the United Nations Foundation Population Fund offers Clean Delivery Kits to pregnant mothers in disaster areas, which can mean the difference between life or death for them and their babies. It contains a bar of soap, a clear plastic sheet to lie on, a razor blade for cutting the umbilical cord and a sterilized tie, a cloth and latex gloves. Such a simple lifesaving measure, like vaccines.
We saw snippets from The Revolutionary Optimists, a documentary about child activists in the slums of Kolkata, India. They went door to door, rallying locals to get their kids vaccinated for polio. Polio is now officially eradicated from India. We talked about people in this country opposed to vaccines—and how mothers in the world's poorest countries do not have the luxury of choice. If their children do not get vaccinated, they could die.
For the first time, I got to advocate on Capitol Hill. I went with Devi Thomas, Director of Shot@Life, and two other women, and we spoke with staffers in our reps' offices about supporting global vaccine initiatives and children's health. This is far less intimidating then it sounds, especially when you're doing it to help save lives. You also realize, as stroll through the hallways of the congressional buildings and see people from all walks of life passing by, that you have every right to have your say.
Shot@Life Champions on Capitol Hill
Secret Capitol Hill weapon: three cups of coffee
One thing I spoke about was how this issue hits close to home. With millions of kids unvaccinated, even diseases that have been eliminated in developed countries could return (see: the recent measles outbreak in New York City). Kids with special needs who have respiratory problems can be at particular risk for infection. I hope to return to the Hill in the near future with Reaching for the Stars, a non-profit that advocates for research funding and treatment of cerebral palsy.
A great quote from a video we saw: "We are connected by a love of life." We are connected by our love of children, too. Some easy things you can do to help include sharing a photo of your child via the Donate a Photo app; one dollar is automatically donated global vaccines from now until May 31, or until the goal of $50,000 is reached. You can download the Shot@Life app to spread awareness. Or share stories from the Global Moms Relay to automatically donate a dollar, now through May 11.
There's no request for you to donate (although feel free to here). Just an ask that you care, and share what speaks to you.
As moms, we know.
As moms, we know.
Disclosure: The United Nations Foundation provided transportation and lodging for this trip.