World Polio Day 2017…and Why It Matters

World Polio Day 2017…and Why It Matters
My Mother

Childhood Photo of My Mother

She had one leg shorter than the other.  Not in such a glaringly obvious way that one would immediately notice, but you could tell if you studied her walk or she pointed it out to you, like she did to me when I was little.

I couldn’t fully understand the story as a child, but my mother had contracted Polio when she was around three years old, and almost died.  I remember that part because she had two names.   Mildred was the name she was given at birth, and Goldie was the name she was re-named after she had recovered, as is customary in the case of near death experiences in the Jewish religion.

By the time I was born, the Polio vaccine had been developed and was administered widely to children in the United States.  Polio was nearly eradicated in this country by then, and so the story of my mother’s near death from Polio became to me a long-ago folk tale from her childhood.

Sadly, that has not been the case for the rest of the world.  Sure the numbers have dropped 99.9% since 1988 when there were 350,000 known cases around the world, to the 37 reported cases in 2016.   Still, the fact is, that as long as Polio remains in even one child, children the world over are at risk of contracting the disease.  The victims of the highly infectious Poliomyelitis virus that attacks the nervous system are usually children younger than five years old.

In 2017 Polio still exists in three countries, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. Only 12 cases of wild polio virus have been reported so far this year according to polioeradication.org.  Nigeria was nearly declared Polio free in 2015 before conflicts in Northern Nigeria prevented routine vaccinations and new cases emerged once again.  As recently as  2013 India was removed from the list of Polio-endemic countries by the World Health Organization. It was a major accomplishment for India, a country that was once the epicenter of the disease, and predicted to be the last country to eradicate Polio from its population. It also showed what is possible when the will and resources are dedicated toward a specific goal.

India did not do it alone; the success of this global effort was due to the combined support of the Indian government, the World Health Organization, Unicef, the Gates Foundation, and Rotary International.  The same organizations who continue to work in partnership with with the U.N. Foundations Shot@Life campaign and GAVI  towards total global Polio eradication. As long as the virus still exists in any country, it can rapidly spread and devastate new populations.  A simple vaccine can prevent it from doing so.

As a mother I empathetically understand what my grandmother must have gone through when my mother was sick as a child.  I can now comprehend how lucky she was to fully recover, albeit one leg shorter than the other, and to live into her seventies.  I also can not bear to imagine any mother losing a child to an easily preventable disease.

 Shot@Life educates, connects and empowers Americans to champion vaccines as one of the most cost-effective ways to save the lives of children in developing countries. A national call to action for this global cause, the campaign rallies the American public, members of Congress, and civil society partners around the fact that together, we can save a child’s life every 20 seconds by expanding access to vaccines. –www.shotatlife.org

Women are bonded across nations, cultures and seas by our shared journey of motherhood, and the universal fierce love we all feel for our children.  Here in the USA we tend to take for granted the life saving vaccines that we have access to. It is unlikely in this country that our children will die from Rotavirus, the measles, or contract polio, all because most of us vaccinate to keep our children safe.  The Measles outbreak in California sparked by international travelers at Disney theme parks served as a great wake up call as to how diseases can travel.  The majority of the contracted cases were in unvaccinated patients. Polio is another highly contagious virus that is only one plane ride away from unvaccinated victims. We are close to eradicating Polio, but it can only happen with persistent global health infrastructure, distribution, and funding.  Today on World Polio Day I called my representatives to ask them to continue to support funding towards polio eradication and global vaccines, the best investments we can make in global health. In the 2017 Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Annual Report Bill Gates predicts that if stability can be sustained in conflict zones, humanity could see the last cases of Polio in the year 2017. That is the goal this World Polio Day 2017.

Have you known anyone effected by Polio? Will you join us to help wipe it out and give all children around the world a Shot@Life?

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If you would like to become an advocate for Shot@Life, you can learn more here.

A version of this was previously published on World Moms Network

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