Friday, February 03, 2012

Shot at Life: Preventing Disease for the Price of a Large Pizza

Shot@Life's Peg Willingham, right, visiting a clinic in Honduras
Spent the first part of the week at the UN Foundation's Shot@Life Summit in Washington, D.C. The children's health event drew together women and a few men from social media, education, medicine and other organizations. The cause? Promoting access to life-saving vaccines in developing countries, vaccines for that the price of two large pizzas can prevent kids from dying of preventable diseases including measles, polio, pneumonia and diarrhea. The Shot@Life campaign will roll out officially in April across the country and I'll be posting more on it over the next couple months so stay tuned.

Why get involved?  

Now most of you know that I don't stump for much in this space other than accuracy in the parenting media and evidence-based health information. Although I enjoy it, I don't haggle over stats and speculative links here just to be annoying or because despite spending decades in higher-education and research I have few marketable skills. I like kids. Some personally, more theoretically and even if you don't we probably agree no kid no matter where should have to die from diarrhea-induced dehydration. 

So after meeting Peg Willingham, the Executive Director of  Shot@Life last summer and learning more about the global health campaign at a New York City soiree last fall, I accepted the invite to the Summit.  It wasn't a gathering of extremists or Friends of Big Pharma.  In fact it would be difficult to choose a label for the entire group except people who want to better children's lives here and around the globe. There were Republicans, Democrats, Independents, social media entrepreneurs, vegans, pediatricians, teachers, an engineer, organic moms, PTA moms, special needs moms, small business moms.

In other words a diverse, non-partisan group of child advocates and we were in good company considering the UN Foundation's partners include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The World Health Organization, UNICEF and The American Red Cross (see more about the event from Chrysula Winegar at Millions Moms Challenge). 

Vaccines remain one of the most cost-effective way to save so many lives and there's plenty of research behind their efficacy.  The data are persuasive and you know I like the data but I also chose to get involved because the media and quite frankly health professionals have so botched the vaccine story over the last 15 years. A plethora of misinformation and not enough nuance and perspective.  

Despite this considerable media attention, most of it focused on safety, very little has addressed the role of vaccines in preventing diseases and deaths in impoverished countries.  It's not something we hear or read much.  So while we quibble or worry about the rare vaccine side effects or rare outbreaks of disease in the US mothers and fathers in Sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere have no such luxury. 

None. There are few vaccines and much disease in their lives.  As public health workers on the ground can attest, people in developing countries line up for hours some walking many miles to get life-saving shots for their children - that is if the vaccines are available.  Sure it's quite easy to dismiss those diseases as something tragic on the other side of the world.  Our increasingly global lives though have brought measles and other largely vanquished diseases to our parts thanks to foreign tourists visiting this country and also US citizens bringing unwelcome souvenirs back from that fabulous trip to London or the semester in Spain.  

After I told my children about all this over dinner my kindergartner looked up and simply asked "but why can't we just give those vaccines to those kids?"  He couldn't figure out why if the vaccines cost so little, for less than he has in his piggy bank, we couldn't get them to the kids.  Good question.

So basically I joined Shot@Life because when it comes down to it, surviving a bout of diarrhea and other illnesses should not and does not have to be a luxury. 


Go to ShotatLife.org if you want to learn more or join up. 

2 comments:

Nicole Melancon said...

Excellent post! We didn't get a chance to talk during the summit but I look forward to working with you on this rat cause! I also love the reasoning behind your blog!

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Thanks, Nicole! Glad to hear from you and I look forward to working with you too.