Tag Archives: Vaccines

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.

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Inspiring Women: Felisa Hilbert

Inspiring Women: Felisa Hilbert

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“I was introduced to the community of Tetzilquila, a little village in the mountains of Mixtla de Altamirano near Orizaba, Veracruz.  To get there we drove several hours until there was no road, and then we hiked a couple more to get there.  When we got to the top after all that walking, there was nothing there!  I asked where the community was… it was down, another 800 meters, with no clear path marked through giant rocks, vegetation and slippery soil.  Finally, it was there in the bottom that we encountered a community of 40 families who did not speak Spanish – they still spoke the pure language of the Aztecs, called Nahuatl.  Only a few adults spoke Spanish.  Once there I could see the hard conditions they lived in and the poor status of nutrition in both the children and the adults.  Their leader told me through an interpreter that they had to walk many miles to go to the closest little town to buy their needs, but then they had to walk even farther to get basic medical care.   I had the interpreter (who came with us) ask the mothers about their priorities and current problems.   Little by little their shyness disappeared and they started talking one by one.  It was an incredible experience to hear them talk about children getting sick, some diseases the suffered and their needs.  As they spoke more I found that I could understand a lot of what they were saying.  The interpreter was surprised and I was surprised; but I learned from the experience that motherhood is universal and did not need a language to communicate.  I fell in love with this community and knew I found a place to start a clinic.” – Felisa Hilbert

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In honor of World Immunization Week I interviewed my friend Felisa Hilbert whom I met through our work with the United Nations Foundation Shot@Life campaign advocating for global vaccines. Through Shot@Life I have met some of the most incredible people, doing the most amazing things. Her name says it all.  Felisa lights up a room with her enthusiasm and treats everyone she meets with warmth. She has also taken it upon herself to build health clinics in the most far-flung, hard to reach rural villages in Mexico. Through her work she has not only saved lives, but transformed communities. Felisa is another great example of how much one woman can achieve when she puts her mind to it! Among other things, these clinics provide the children of these villages access to life saving vaccines that they otherwise would not have had. Nearly 1/3rd of childhood deaths under the age of five around the world are due to vaccine preventable diseases.  Vaccines save lives. 

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Elizabeth: What was your background before becoming a Shot@Life Champion and builder of rural health clinics?

Felisa: From the moment I moved to US I always volunteered in different organizations wherever we lived.  When my husband (Dan) was transferred with the Army to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and my children started elementary school I volunteered in the local schools for 4 years and later became an ELL bilingual Assistant.  As such, I taught, interpreted and translated for students from many countries in ELL Classes (ELL =English Language Learners) in the Broken Arrow Public Schools for a total of 19 years.

 

E:  What inspired you to become a Shot@Life Champion?

F: I was an RN working on a post-grad psychiatry specialty before I married my husband In Mexico.  During my 4 years of nursing and after I graduated as an RN I volunteered all my free time and participated in Preventive Medicine campaigns.  In these campaigns I worked with teams of doctors and nurses in many vaccines campaigns in impoverish communities.  We also provided and taught basic medical care needed in these remote communities located far away from established medical clinics and basic community health services.  It was there that my love for global health causes was born.  I attended and saw many cases where pain and suffering could be alleviated with basic medical care and immunizations. There were also many sad stories where I felt powerless to save the lives of many precious children.  In early 2011 I was selected by Parenting Magazine for the Mom Congress in Washington DC as a delegate representative from the State of Oklahoma.  This gave me a wonderful opportunity to share my passion for the children’s issues, allowing me to advocate for them in my state at a different level with a bigger audience.  It was there in DC that Mom Congress selected 5 of us to attend the first Shot@life Summit on January 30, 2012 to introduce the new United Nations Foundation Shot@Life campaign.  From the beginning of that summit I knew that this was exactly what I had been looking for, for many years.  Simply put: I believe in the cause!  I saw firsthand what happens to children in poor countries; I already knew that vaccines save lives…  and my nursing background was perfect!

   

E: What made you decide to initiate these clinics in rural Mexico?

F: My experiences as a nurse and 20 months of being a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Saints in many rural areas in different states of Mexico made me promise myself and want to do more than just humanitarian missions with needed items during summer or spring breaks.  It was not enough to save lives, especially in the many remote and far-away villages.  Children and families were still getting sick and didn’t have access to basic medical care.  I am a woman of faith, so I pray for guidance and a way to do more – and with my nursing background, building a little health clinic was the answer.  While in Washington DC for a conference in the summer 2014, I offered to interpret for some government officials in the delegation from Mexico when I saw their difficulties with the English language.  Later they saw me speak about global health, education and poverty then afterward; we exchanged cards and contact information.  Several months later I received an invitation to go to Mexico and train some of their professionals about global issues, poverty and how to empower the new generation.  I accepted and conducted training seminars in 3 states, one of them in my home state of Veracruz.  As part of the training I asked that we go to the field together where they could show me their nearby communities in need of help.  It was there that I was introduced to the community of Tetzilquila, a little village in the mountains of Mixtla de Altamirano near Orizaba, Veracruz.  To get there we drove several hours until there was no road, and then we hiked a couple more to get there.  When we got to the top after all that walking, there was nothing there!  I asked where the community was… it was down, another 800 meters, with no clear path marked through giant rocks, vegetation and slippery soil.  Finally, it was there in the bottom that we encountered a community of 40 families who did not speak Spanish – they still spoke the pure language of the Aztecs, called Nahuatl.  Only a few adults spoke Spanish.  Once there I could see the hard conditions they lived in and the poor status of nutrition in both the children and the adults.  Their leader told me through an interpreter that they had to walk many miles to go to the closest little town to buy their needs, but then they had to walk even farther to get basic medical care.   I had the interpreter (who came with us) ask the mothers about their priorities and current problems.   Little by little their shyness disappeared and they started talking one by one.  It was an incredible experience to hear them talk about children getting sick, some diseases the suffered and their needs.  As they spoke more I found that I could understand a lot of what they were saying.  The interpreter was surprised and I was surprised; but I learned from the experience that motherhood is universal and did not need a language to communicate.  I fell in love with this community and knew I found a place to start a clinic. 

 

E:  Did you ever think it was not possible?

F: Not ever!  I am an eternal optimist!  I knew that it would require a lot of sacrifices, but if I worked very hard – and with and through these people – it would happen.  In the past I had done other projects, so I was prepared to work very hard to make it happen.  To fund the construction of the clinic I went into an intense fund-raising mode for the following year.  During this time I sold my own jewelry, unneeded possessions of value around the house, did a yard sale and a restaurant night fundraiser, sold 500 Mexican tamales.  Also 3 years ago I started to make Jewelry for sale and put my Facebook page Jewelry with a Purpose with all the profits going to the clinic and Shot@life or African school children.

 

E: Were you ever in fear of your safety?

F: No, I have traveled and served in many communities all of my adult life and I have only found kindness, gratefulness and love from the people I have served and loved.  The Tetzilquila community adopted me in their community and I am so grateful for the opportunity to serve them.

 

E: How have the communities responded to the clinics?

F: The response was incredible from the beginning.  My personal goal is always to empower communities I serve and to involve them as part of the planning and solutions by making them partners in the effort.  Their response has been very enthusiastic through the meetings and planning, especially as they realize their integral role in the decision-making process.  They signed a commitment to provide the actual labor once I raised the funds necessary to purchase the construction materials.  In so doing the have been 100% partners in the effort – and their pride shows!  For example, it was like a community holiday when the material arrived and everyone showed up to hand-carry everything in to the construction site.  Remember my description of the trip there… yes, they enthusiastically and almost joyfully hand-carried everything in! It was even a more joyful community celebration when we finally inaugurated the clinic.  Now other communities had heard about it and are eager to do the same thing for themselves.  Right now I have 2 others in the initial planning stages for their own clinics.  This is so exciting!

 

E:  What changes have you seen as a result?

F: Besides the enthusiasm we’ve witnessed in seeing the community come together, there has been the obvious benefit to their healthcare.  On September the 1st, 2016 we attended 120 patients the first day of operation.  The medical team and I gave vaccines shots for measles & polio, fluids & parasite purges and give consult to adults.  Since that day a doctor and nurse (or student nurses) come to the clinic to attend patients on a weekly basis.  It has been interesting to watch the community become self-actuating and empowered in other areas of need.  They are learning to advocate for themselves with area governments and now we are working to open a road through the mountains; with the help of World Vision Mexico they have constructed 20 tanks to collect rain water; and with the help of the local National Action Party (PAN) has constructed several new tiny one room concrete homes. 

 

E:  How do you see them becoming sustainable?

F: In watching them in the other projects I just described, one can see how they are taking ownership of their situation & its solutions – and are learning that they have rights and can use them.  We are teaching them everything that they need to know to be a healthy community.  They knew from the beginning that this was their clinic and that they will have to take care of it.

 

E: Where do your supplies come from?

F: From all the fundraisers I mentioned above: my “Jewelry with a Purpose” sales, and from individual donations from friends and family.  Donations and ideas are always welcome!

 

E:  Have you partnered with any other organizations?

F: I have partnered with the Veracruz regional leaders of World Vision Mexico.  This project started because of the training seminars I taught for them.  Since then they have been a key part of supervising the work when I have been absent, providing interpreters and a driver to accompany me during my visits.  In my end I have trained all their personnel about how to help communities survive, social promotion, the language of communication with people of different cultures, social empowerment, etc.

 

E:  What’s next for you?

F: I’m still putting the finishing touches on the Tetzilquila clinic.  I still need some items like a scale, 20 chairs and an exam room.  This February (2017), the community of Xometla opened their own clinic based on what we did in Tetzilquila.  They also need all the furniture and basic furnishings.  These communities are amazing!  I will be busy working and finding resources to keep helping and empowering them and other communities – and make sure that their children their will go to school and grow healthy and free of childhood diseases.

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Felisa you are such an inspiration to me! 

Follow Felisa on Twitter  and Instagram to keep up with her projects.

What Is A Twitter Takeover ?

What Is A Twitter Takeover ?

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Sounds pretty dramatic, right?!? A Twitter Takeover is kind of dramatic, but it’s not about illegal hacking. A Twitter Takeover is when a brand or organization hands over their twitter account to a new voice to run temporarily. It may be a celebrity, spokesperson, or in our case for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization this week…. a bunch of moms…I mean social media influencers!  Twitter takeovers have become a great way for brands and organizations to increase engagement and reach audience populations they might not already have access to. They nurture a feeling of authenticity, and bring in fresh voices to followers.

That is where our group of writers, digital media producers, travelers, moms, and advocates come in. We deeply believe that all children should have global access to lifesaving vaccines.  I know you are still wondering WHY GAVI would let us takeover the @vaccines twitter account. Collectively between us we have nearly 44,000 followers comprised, in part, of many other moms who also care about child health, but who may not already follow the @vaccines twitter handle. This is an important demographic to reach on the topic of global vaccines because as long as a virus is a threat anywhere in the world, it is a threat to all of us.  We have the vaccines to prevent some of the most threatening diseases, but they only work if they are delivered. Our Twitter Takeover team of UN Foundation Shot@Life Champion Leaders is made up of myself, Nicolette Springer, Nicole Morgan, and Ilina Ewen. We were asked by GAVI to takeover the account to tweet from the Social Good Summit and UNGA, which are both taking place in NYC this week.  Our goal is to help spread the message that Vaccines Work. No mother should lose her child due to a vaccine preventable disease when we have the life saving vaccines available. All children deserve a shot at life. Read the rest of this entry

Shaping The Narrative Of Global Health

Shaping The Narrative Of Global Health

I was thrilled to be asked to speak at this years United Nations Foundation Shot@Life Summit to a room of almost 200 champions from all over the country. I’ll confess that having never spoken to a group that large I was a nervous wreck, but I love a challenge, and it helps to speak from the heart on an issue you are emotionally invested in, and so this is what I said:

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“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 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. I was so grateful to join shot@life as a champion and 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 would have been too afraid. Yet, the next thing I knew I was hoofing it around capitol hill (in the wrong shoes…I might add…( definitely take the comfortable shoe recommendation seriously ) 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.

vaccinesSo 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 with this social toolkit.Write op-eds, letters to the editor, blog posts, or articles for your local paper or magazine. I had a profile run in my local town Magazine for example.

For World Pneumonia Day last November I was paired up with 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.

This year might be the last year that Polio is a threat to any child in the world, with only 9 cases on record, and still known to exist in only two 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.

#Advocate2Vaccinate #VaccinesWork

 

#Blogust 2015 & Words That Matter

#Blogust 2015 & Words That Matter

photo for quoteRecently the African continent celebrated its first year with no new Polio cases on record. That milestone signifies that the world is getting closer to the once impossible to imagine goal, of eradicating Polio from the world entirely, for good. Africa’s accomplishment means that vaccine programs have worked, and now the global community is down to two remaining Polio-endemic countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan. We are getting close, but our work is not done. As long as Polio is out there in this ever shrinking world, it remains a threat to us all. Meanwhile, 1.5 million children still die unnecessarily every year from vaccine preventable diseases.

The United Nations Foundation Shot@life campaign is a movement to protect children worldwide by providing life-saving vaccines where they are needed most.

During Shot@Life’s Blogust 2015—a month-long blog relay—some of North America’s most beloved online writers, photo and video bloggers and Shot@Life Champions will come together and share inspirational quotes for their children. Every time you comment on this post and other Blogust contributions, or take action using the social media on this website, Shot@Life and the United Nations Foundation pages, one vaccine will be donated to a child around the world (up to 50,000).

As a reader and a writer, I am a natural logophile, a lover of words. Joining the Blogust’15 team this year I am thrilled that we are using words as our currency to help provide vaccines for those children around the world who need them most. As we each share our meaningful words and quotes I hope you become inspired. Inspired to action, to make a difference in the world. 

Never underestimate the power of words. Words have the ability to heal. They can pierce. Powerful worlds can start a revolution. A quote can become a mantra that guides you forward, or helps you to make sense of your world.

 Just think of those moments in your life when a passing remark crushed you, or another moment perhaps, when one made you soar.

I think of the mantras that play in my head to this day, simple phrases that my parents planted that have grown into beliefs. 

Pictured here with my brother and parents...the authors of my subconscious.

Pictured here with my brother and parents…the authors of my subconscious.

 

“There is no such thing as “can’t.”

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“Everybody needs somebody to love.”

All these seemingly innocuous mid-conversation sentences stuck for some reason above all the others, I can’t tell you why. I can only tell you that I know that some of my words spoken to my own children will stick in the same way, and I pray that I get it right. That the positive messages stick, and grow.

Words are powerful. This month during Blogust lets use our words to give all children the chance to grow up and pass on their own words of wisdom. Immunization is one of the most cost-effective ways to save the lives of children in developing countries. Shot@Life aims to decrease vaccine-preventable childhood deaths around the world, and to give every child a shot at a healthy life.

During @ShotAtLife’s #Blogust, every time you comment, like or share a post, 1 vaccine will be donated to a child around the world (up to 50,000). Take action now. It is that simple to make an impact, one word, one click, one share.

Every 20 seconds one child dies from a vaccine preventable disease. Other ways that you can help are to:

Take action to support Global Vaccine funding by telling congress you care

Become a part of the movement to prevent unnecessary childhood deaths by becoming a Shot@Life Champion.

Donate to save lives. It only takes $1.00 to vaccinate a child against a debilitating disease.