USA: Today Is World Polio Day 2017

USA: Today Is World Polio Day 2017

Last year I spoke at the United Nations Foundation Shot@Life Summit to a room of almost 200 advocates for global vaccines from all over the country. I had a story to tell, as many of us do, though you might not know it. The story of how Polio touched the lives of so many goes back a couple of generations for most Americans, people forget how terrifying it was, was but if you speak with anyone who grew up before the Polio vaccine became available and mention the word Polio you can watch their eyes grow wide at the memory of the fear that gripped this nation. Try it. Ask your grandmother or grandfather, and I bet they have a story for you about how it touched their lives. This is the story I told:

“Every story begins and ends with a woman, a mother, a grandmother, a girl, a child, . Every story is a birth”….- Ishmael Beah Author of Long Way Gone & Radiance of Tomorrow & UNICEF Advocate

As a storyteller, and a mother to my four children that quote by Ishmael Beah really touches me. Because before I was a mother, I was of course a daughter. And the story of why I am here speaking to you today begins with her. my mother was born in 1922 , she was 45 when I was born, and a polio survivor. She stood all of 5’2” at a tilt, since Polio had left her with one leg slightly shorter than the other.

Eventually I would come to tower over her at 5’9″, and now that I am a mother myself I muse at how odd it must have been to have ended up with a daughter so much taller. While I was still a daughter, and before I became a mother, I was a traveler. I still think about the mothers who approached me as a westerner in my early twenties and held out their babies to me asking for medicine or a cure. If those babies survived they would be in their mid-twenties now, and surely not all did survive. Knowing what I know now I wish I could go back in time with a bag of medical supplies and give them whatever they needed, because the pleading looks in those mother’s eyes haunt me to this day.

I never was a mother and a daughter at the same time. My mother passed away four months before my own first child was born. Though she had told me stories about having Polio as a child it never really resonated with me in the way it did once I became a mother myself. How terrified my grandmother must have been of losing her. And to be honest I hadn’t really reflected on those mothers I met as a backpacker in my 20’s until I became a mother myself, and then I remembered that helpless feeling I was left with when I did not know what to do to help them. When I joined shot@life as a champion in 2013 I was so grateful to finally have the opportunity to DO SOMETHING. To honor my mother’s legacy as a Polio Survivor, and to help the mothers that I know are out there in developing countries desperate for proper healthcare, for lifesaving vaccines for their children that every mother should have access to.

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As excited as I was to join Shot@Life I have to confess that had I known that I was going to be visiting my government representatives on capitol hill that first year I attended the summit, I may never have joined. I had never done anything like that before. Yet, the next thing I knew I was hoofing it around capitol hill (in the wrong shoes…I might add…) advocating for Shot@life with my congressmen and Senators. I brought the messaging back to my community and realized how much work is still to be done just in terms of  awareness alone. There is so much misinformation and lack of awareness out there on vaccines.

In this country we take it for granted that our babies will not die from a simple case of diarrhea, but mothers in countries where they lack access to vaccines have lost, or know someone who has lost a baby to a vaccine preventable disease.

Every 20 seconds a baby dies from a vaccine preventable disease, mothers will walk for days to get vaccines when they can for their children. I realized there is a huge need to get the message out to the public.

So what can YOU do to make sure every child gets a fair Shot@life no matter where they are born?

  1. Become a United Nations Foundation Shot@Life Champion, as a Champion here are a few ways to reach out to make an impact in your community that can ripple around the globe:
  2. Contact or visit your local representatives and tell them that you care about their support of global health and global vaccines, and ask them to support these programs as well.
  3.  Hold a party to get the word out, if you don’t want to do it in your home there are so many companies that offer fun alternatives. In my community stores like Alex & Ani,  Pinkberry, and Flatbread Pizza will help you have a party on site to fundraise for your event.
  4. Speak to local clubs, a local new neighbors club, Rotary or General Federation of Women’s Clubs
  5. Hold an event at your child’s school or set up a booth during an international fair, take the opportunity to work the importance of vaccines into the broader issue of global awareness.
  6. Use social media as a messaging tool for good by following and sharing information through Shot@Life social channels, Write op-eds, letters to the editor, blog posts, or articles for your local paper or magazine.

For World Pneumonia Day in November of 2015 I was paired up with Pediatrician Dr Mkope from Tanzania and at the National Press Club in Washington, DC we did over 20 radio and TV interviews! It was a great feeling knowing that the message of the importance of vaccines, with real life proof of efficacy from Dr. Mkope, was being broadcast so far and wide. At shot@life we say “a virus is just a plane ride away”, and in a perfect example of this ever shrinking world, it turned out that Dr. Mkope is the pediatrician of the one friend I know in Tanzania.

Polio is still known to exist in only three countries in the world, the World Health Organization predicts that, with vaccines, it will be eradicated soon.

Every story is a birth, for my mother who survived Polio, for the mothers I met in central Africa with the pleading eyes, for my children and my children’s children, what I have learned as a Shot@Life Champion is that we have the opportunity to shape this narrative on global health, together lets write this story to end with no child dying unnecessarily from a vaccine preventable disease.

 

A version of this post previously appeared on Documama.org

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Elizabeth Atalay

Elizabeth Atalay is a Digital Media Producer, Managing Editor at World Moms Network, and a Social Media Manager. She was a 2015 United Nations Foundation Social Good Fellow, and traveled to Ethiopia as an International Reporting Project New Media Fellow to report on newborn health in 2014. On her personal blog, Documama.org, she uses digital media as a new medium for her background as a documentarian. After having worked on Feature Films and Television series for FOX, NBC, MGM, Columbia Pictures, Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, and Castle Rock Pictures, she studied documentary filmmaking and anthropology earning a Masters degree in Media Studies from The New School in New York. Since becoming a Digital Media Producer she has worked on social media campaigns for non-profits such as Save The Children, WaterAid, ONE.org, UNICEF, United Nations Foundation, Edesia, World Pulse, American Heart Association, and The Gates Foundation. Her writing has also been featured on ONE.org, Johnson & Johnson’s BabyCenter.com, EnoughProject.org, GaviAlliance.org, and Worldmomsnetwork.com. Elizabeth has traveled to 70 countries around the world, most recently to Haiti with Artisan Business Network to visit artisans in partnership with Macy’s Heart of Haiti line, which provides sustainable income to Haitian artisans. Elizabeth lives in New England with her husband and four children.

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WORLD VOICE:  The March Of Dimes Marches On

WORLD VOICE: The March Of Dimes Marches On

Baby in NICU

Photo Credit: March of Dimes

The tiny translucent fingers of a premature baby are stark reminders of the fragility of newborn life no matter where in the world a baby is born. When I asked a friend who works for the March of Dimes exactly what it was that the organization did I was struck that I knew so little about it. While I had traveled in the past few years on maternal and newborn health reporting trips to Ethiopia and South Africa, and written for a number of global non-profits on related issues, I was unaware that the March of Dimes was fighting for Newborn lives right here in the US.

As a mother of four and the daughter of a Polio survivor I am an active advocate for global vaccines with the United Nations Foundation’s Shot@Life campaign where one of our major goals is global Polio eradication.  The March of Dimes was Founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938 to eradicate Polio in the US, I was fascinated to find out that the March of Dimes had led the fight against Polio eradication, and although it still exists in two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan, it was successfully eradicated in the US in 1979. Thanks in large part to the March of Dimes campaign.

The robust infrastructure of the March of Dimes was then shifted to tackle birth defects, and in the mid 1980s shifted to Community, Advocacy, Research, Education and Support services around premature birth. (the birth of an infant before 37 weeks of pregnancy). Premature babies can have serious health problems at birth and that last later into life, and about 1 in 10 babies in the US are born prematurely.

According to the March of Dimes Global Action Report on Preterm Birth; Born Too Soon :

  • 15 million babies in the world are born prematurely each year, and that number is rising.

  • Preterm birth is the greatest cause of neonatal death, in the first 28 days of life.

  • It is the second leading cause of death in children under the age of 5 years old.

  • 60% of preterm births occur in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

  • 75% of the deaths of premature babies could be prevented with proper medical care

Here in the US the preterm birth rate is at 9.6% , while across 184 countries of the world the statistics range from 5 to 18% for preterm birth rates per 100 live births. That means that here in the US, I was shocked to learn, we only get a report card grade of a C. You can find out where your country ranks on the Born Too Soon Global Map as well.

There is a lot of research going on to find out what factors cause preterm birth, because even healthy mothers who have done everything right during pregnancy can experience it.  The risk factors that are associated with it include mothers of multiples, or who have previously had a preterm birth. Getting little or no prenatal care, being overweight or underweight during pregnancy, smoking, drinking alcohol, and drug use are all known to contribute. But there are demographics as well, if you are under 17 or over 35 these are risk factors, and here in the US researchers are working hard to find out why race also seems to play a part in the statistics.

Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait® is a comprehensive initiative by the March of Dimes to prevent preventable preterm birth, with a focus on reducing elective deliveries before 39 weeks gestation. Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait involves an education and awareness campaign, hospital quality improvement and community intervention programs. These strategies are focused on interventions and activities that have the potential to make an immediate, substantial and measurable impact on preterm birth. – www.marchofdimes.org

My friend Michelle invited me for a tour of the NICU at Women & Infants Hospital to see the work being done there by the March of Dimes.  There was a stark differences between the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit that I had visited in Ethiopia at the Black Lion Hospital on my International Reporting Project Fellowship and the one we toured here in Rhode Island. I could see it had a lot to do with the presence of the March of Dimes. On the sterile 6 year old  50,000 sq. foot wing here in Rhode Island 82 babies can receive care. In the corner of the floor an entire center for family support provides programs, food, and a fun filled space for siblings to play. The support given in the hospital space seems an extension of the March of Dimes website where it encourages community support through the Share your story feature .

Mom Holding Baby

Photo Credit: March of Dimes

On my tour I could not help but think of the mothers I had seen across the world in Ethiopia in the largest NICU in the country  with only three incubators and one nurse for every 10 babies.   The mothers folded over their teeny babies with the same concerned and protective stance as the ones I saw here in Rhode Island, but with the difference of a world of support from the March of Dimes programs at hand. I was happy to learn that over the past 15 years the March of Dimes Global Programs have formed alliances with partners on the ground to help improve birth outcomes in developing countries around the world as well.   All mothers love their babies with the same fierce intensity no matter where they live, and all babies deserve the chance to survive no matter where in the world they are born. I was impressed to learn about all that the March of Dimes programs do to see that happen.

This is an original post written by Elizabeth Atalay of Documama for World Moms Blog.

 

 

 

Elizabeth Atalay

Elizabeth Atalay is a Digital Media Producer, Managing Editor at World Moms Network, and a Social Media Manager. She was a 2015 United Nations Foundation Social Good Fellow, and traveled to Ethiopia as an International Reporting Project New Media Fellow to report on newborn health in 2014. On her personal blog, Documama.org, she uses digital media as a new medium for her background as a documentarian. After having worked on Feature Films and Television series for FOX, NBC, MGM, Columbia Pictures, Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, and Castle Rock Pictures, she studied documentary filmmaking and anthropology earning a Masters degree in Media Studies from The New School in New York. Since becoming a Digital Media Producer she has worked on social media campaigns for non-profits such as Save The Children, WaterAid, ONE.org, UNICEF, United Nations Foundation, Edesia, World Pulse, American Heart Association, and The Gates Foundation. Her writing has also been featured on ONE.org, Johnson & Johnson’s BabyCenter.com, EnoughProject.org, GaviAlliance.org, and Worldmomsnetwork.com. Elizabeth has traveled to 70 countries around the world, most recently to Haiti with Artisan Business Network to visit artisans in partnership with Macy’s Heart of Haiti line, which provides sustainable income to Haitian artisans. Elizabeth lives in New England with her husband and four children.

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SOCIAL GOOD: India and Polio- A Global Health Success Story

SOCIAL GOOD: India and Polio- A Global Health Success Story

Three years ago, on January 13th India proudly declared the country polio-free after an unbelievable push to rid the country of this debilitating disease. In March, the World Health Organization (WHO) is expected to officially certify India as polio-free, leaving only three countries left to rid the disease: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. Since the 1988 launch of a highly effective and powerful global campaign to eradicate polio, we have seen remarkable progress: In 1988, there were 125 countries with polio and today there remain only three. India’s astounding victory has been an incredible success story that has been inspiring to watch unfold.

The almost insurmountable effort to rid the second most populous country in the world of polio has been nothing short of heroic. Countless people, non-profit organizations, governmental, and global health institutions were involved in this massive effort to ensure that every single child in India was, and continues to be immunized against polio.  Not only does India have an enormous population of children to vaccinate there are around 27 million new children born each year  – India itself is a very large country with some of the world’s most remote and hard to reach destinations. Ensuring that every child has been immunized against polio continues to be a massive feat (India employed an army of 2.5 million vaccinators who immunized over 175 million children) yet also proves that the world can eradicate polio from the planet.  If we do so, it will be only the second time in history that we have eradicated a disease in humans.

Indian school children wave at the camera during a visit to an Indian slum with Save the Children. Photo credit: Author

Indian school children wave at the camera during a visit to an Indian slum with Save the Children. Photo credit: Author

 

After traveling to India, I have continue to be amazed by what a massive campaign this has been, and what it all entailed.

Per End Polio Now, “Experts once considered India the most technically difficult place to end polio. As recently as 2009, India was home to nearly half the world’s polio cases.High population density, migrant populations and poor sanitation presented exceptional challenges to eliminating this crippling disease”.

Furthermore, India is home to millions of people who live in extremely remote, hard to reach villages that can take days to reach by foot. Yet despite these obstacles, the Indian government working together with Rotary International and other global health institutions accomplished what once seemed almost impossible.

Per Bill Gates recent article titled “India’s Finally Polio-Free. Here’s Why it Matters”published on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Impatient Optimists:

“It’s one of the greatest public health accomplishments of all time, and a powerful reminder of just how important it is to continue the fight to eradicate polio worldwide”.-Bill Gates

Recent polio outbreaks in war-torn Syria have proven that highly contagious polio can still spread and if we want to wipe polio off the face of the earth, there is no more opportune moment than now. We must continue to fund vaccination programs and push the three remaining countries to continue their fight against this horrible disease. The astounding accomplishment in India proves that this is a battle that can be won and is an important reminder of how people can work together to achieve the almost impossible task of vaccinating each and every child.

Do you believe we can wipe out Polio in our lifetimes?

This is an original World Moms Blog post written by Nicole Melancon of ThirdEyeMom.

Nicole Melancon (USA)

Third Eye Mom is a stay-at-home mom living in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her two children Max (6) and Sophia (4). Her children keep her continually busy and she is constantly amazed by the imagination, energy and joy of life that they possess! A world wanderer at heart, she has also been fortunate to have visited over 30 countries by either traveling, working, studying or volunteering and she continues to keep on the traveling path. A graduate of French and International Relations from the University of Wisconsin Madison, where she met her husband Paul, she has always been a Midwest gal living in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Chicago. This adventurous mom loves to be outside doing anything athletic (hiking, running, biking, skiing, snowshoeing or simply enjoying nature), to travel and volunteer abroad, to write, and to spend time with her beloved family and friends. Her latest venture involves her dream to raise enough money on her own to build and open a brand-new school in rural Nepal, and to teach her children to live compassionately, open-minded lives that understand different cultures and the importance of giving back to those in need. Third Eye Mom believes strongly in the value of making a difference in the world, no matter how small it may be. If there is a will, there is a way, and that anything is possible (as long as you set your heart and mind to it!). Visit her on her blog, Thirdeyemom, where she writes about her travels and experiences in other lands!

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UGANDA Day 4: Global Health in Fort Portal

UGANDA Day 4: Global Health in Fort Portal

This is Day 4 of a trip to Uganda with the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life campaign. World Moms Blog founder, Jennifer Burden, was part of the delegation to observe UNICEF’s Family Health Days in October 2012. 

Elizabeth, a volunteer health worker in Fort Portal, Uganda with World Moms Blog Founder, Jennifer Burden on a Shot@Life trip October 2012.

Elizabeth, a volunteer health worker and Ugandan mother who helps to administer life-saving vaccines to children under 5 years old in Fort Portal with World Moms Blog Founder, Jennifer Burden, on a Shot@Life trip  to Uganda in October 2012.

At Church in Uganda

Sunday, we rose and prepared for the Family Health Day in the town of Fort Portal, which is about a 4 hour drive from Uganda’s capital, Kampala. Our delegation split in two because there were two Family Health Days within our reach that our group wanted to cover, so some of our group headed to a Catholic Church. I was with the group that was at an Anglican church for a Family Health Day.

It was that day that I met John the Baptist, a man who wished to continue school to become a priest, but economics didn’t allow him to do so. He now worked for the town of Fort Portal and accompanied us on our trip. It turned out John the Baptist has a 6 year old daughter, and she and my own 5 year daughter are becoming pen pals over e-mail. What a fantastic cultural experience that may grow out of this trip for two of the world’s children!

UN Van Church Fort Portal

We arrived at a grassy knoll with a church on top of the hill. It was picturesque. The familiar (to me) tune of hymns were coming from the building, and on the outside, the health workers were setting up their stations under trees and outside of buildings. Signs were words scrawled on paper: “HIV Testing Here” “Immunizations for Children Under 5”, etc.

First, Cindy Levin’s curiosity led us all into the mass. We sat on what looked like hand made wooden pews and the church inside was painted sky blue and had what looked like Christmas garland hanging from side to side overhead. The energy of the people singing inside was intense! As the priest spoke in a local African dialect, I was able to follow the mass. Not from what he said, but by the sing-song of his tone. I recognized the “Our Father” and the “The Apostle’s Creed” from my days of growing up as a Catholic, although I currently choose not to practice a religion now.

UNICEF Family Health Day

Afterwards we met with health workers, including a lab technician conducting HIV testing, a nurse midwife, and various volunteers administering vaccines, taking blood pressure and testing for malnutrition in small children. The delegation spent time observing each post, but former Mexican nurse, Felisa Hilbert, took it one step further and helped take blood pressure to the smiles of many people waiting in line.

Felicia Hilbert, a former Mexican nurse, volunteers to take blood pressure during a UNICEF Family Health Day on a Shot@Life delegation to Uganda.

Felisa Hilbert, a former nurse from Mexico, volunteers to take blood pressure during a UNICEF Family Health Day on a Shot@Life trip to Uganda.

Families waited under the shade of large, beautiful trees for their family members who were utilizing the health services. I had the chance to see children receive polio vaccinations.

Interacting with the mothers who were receiving these immunization services for their children was profound for me, after spending almost a year advocating for their children to have access to them.

Baby Waits for Vaccinations

 

The people we met in Uganda were curious and open to conversation, and so were we. Having previous been an British colony, English is common in Uganda. Having this common medium, made it possible for our delegation to really experience the local culture and people of Uganda.

I asked so many questions, met so many people and took a lot of notes. The trip has been an asset for me in leading discussions on Twitter for social good for World Moms Blog, for presenting on Shot@Life, in my writing, and in lobbying US Congress on global health and vaccines, talking to friends. But perhaps, it’s greatest impact will be on my daughters due to the multitude of stories I share with them about the children I met in Uganda. My experiences as part of this delegation were so meaningful. Thank you, again, to the UN Foundation and Shot@Life for giving me this great gift that I will continue to share in my advocacy.

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by founder, Jennifer Burden, in NJ, USA. To read more about Jennifer’s trip with Shot@Life to Uganda, check out Day 1 about UNICEF offices in Kampala, Uganda, Day 2 of her trip at a UNICEF Family Health Day in Mumbende, Uganda and Day 3 about signs of poverty.

Photo credits to the author. 

Jennifer Burden

Jennifer Burden is the Founder and CEO of World Moms Network, an award winning website on global motherhood, culture, human rights and social good. World Moms Network writes from over 30 countries, has over 70 contributors and was listed by Forbes as one of the “Best 100 Websites for Women”, named a “must read” by The New York Times, and was recommended by The Times of India. She was also invited to Uganda to view UNICEF’s family health programs with Shot@Life and was previously named a “Global Influencer Fellow” and “Social Media Fellow” by the UN Foundation. Jennifer was invited to the White House twice, including as a nominated "Changemaker" for the State of the World Women Summit. She also participated in the One Campaign’s first AYA Summit on the topic of women and girl empowerment and organized and spoke on an international panel at the World Bank in Washington, DC on the importance of a universal education for all girls. Her writing has been featured by Baby Center, Huffington Post, ONE.org, the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life, and The Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists.” She is currently a candidate in Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs in the Executive Masters of Public Affairs program, where she hopes to further her study of global policies affecting women and girls. Jennifer can be found on Twitter @JenniferBurden.

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Uganda, Shot@Life, Capitol Hill, Champs & Mohammad!

Uganda, Shot@Life, Capitol Hill, Champs & Mohammad!

It takes a lot for me to leave my family behind for a week like I did to go to Uganda. Actually, it was the only time I’ve ever done it, sparked by an URGENT matter.  Did you know that every 20 seconds a child dies from a vaccine-preventable disease?
Doesn’t sound pressing enough?
Well how about some math…:
Shot@Life 28 Days World Moms Blog 2
In the time it takes for the Shot@Life 28 Days of Impact campaign to run through the blogosphere, statistically,120,960 children will succumb to vaccine-preventable deaths in the developing world.
And February is the shortest month.
That is 1.5 MILLION children in a year will die a death that we could have helped prevent for a few bucks. Yes, a few bucks, even just one buck, in some cases. It’s so simple.  
Last October I left my family for a week and flew to Uganda with a delegation from the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life campaign.   (more…)

Jennifer Burden

Jennifer Burden is the Founder and CEO of World Moms Network, an award winning website on global motherhood, culture, human rights and social good. World Moms Network writes from over 30 countries, has over 70 contributors and was listed by Forbes as one of the “Best 100 Websites for Women”, named a “must read” by The New York Times, and was recommended by The Times of India. She was also invited to Uganda to view UNICEF’s family health programs with Shot@Life and was previously named a “Global Influencer Fellow” and “Social Media Fellow” by the UN Foundation. Jennifer was invited to the White House twice, including as a nominated "Changemaker" for the State of the World Women Summit. She also participated in the One Campaign’s first AYA Summit on the topic of women and girl empowerment and organized and spoke on an international panel at the World Bank in Washington, DC on the importance of a universal education for all girls. Her writing has been featured by Baby Center, Huffington Post, ONE.org, the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life, and The Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists.” She is currently a candidate in Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs in the Executive Masters of Public Affairs program, where she hopes to further her study of global policies affecting women and girls. Jennifer can be found on Twitter @JenniferBurden.

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