Guest blog by Felisa Hilbert "How to Give Children a Shot@Life, and a Future"

I woke up this morning with so much excitement and happiness! Today is the beginning of months of preparation and work by the Shot@Life Champions from all over the country and the United Nations Foundations staff for the BIG national launch of the SHOT@LIFE Campaign this April 26 in Atlanta, Georgia. This entire week champions from around the country will be shouting out about Shot@Life, blogging, doing events and fundraisers to spread the word and create awareness and understanding of the importance of vaccines and how they save children’s lives.

As I have said before, as long as I can remember, and in where ever I have lived, I have always advocated for worthy causes – from human rights, minority acceptance and immigration issues, to education and cultural diversity issues, inclusion and ending racial prejudice. It has seemed as if I never had a choice. When I was a missionary and, afterward, as a nurse I had the opportunity to serve in the rural areas of four different states in Mexico. There I saw what the lack of vaccinations does to people, especially little children. All of these experiences gave me a deep understanding and insight of how health issues, like the lack of vaccinations, hunger and poverty are global problems that are interrelated and affect us all. This gave me a passion for children’s health issues around the globe. Throughout the world, we are all connected, but only some of us are lucky enough to have the resources to make a difference.

This difference does not always require money. We can make a difference through advocating with our legislators and communicating the message while doing public or community service and everything else in our power to make sure our children have a better future.

I became a Champion for the Shot@Life Vaccines Campaign because I believe in it with all my heart. I had lived these experiences and I saw the pain and agony in the eyes of the mothers and children in my native country. Nothing can be more excruciating than watching your child die in your arms without being able to give the help or comfort needed to alleviate their suffering. As a mother, I would give everything in my power
to protect my children and to make sure that they received the best education possible, that they grow healthy and strong, perform concerts, dance, sing and enjoy every day’s sunrise, sunset and in-between. But sadly, many of these mothers this will not have these privileges and opportunities. Some will not see many of their children grow older!

I remember while sitting in a presentation by Dr. Meg Fisher, the Medical Director of The Children’s Hospital (Monmouth Medical Center) in Long Branch, NJ about childhood diseases and illness statistics caused by the lack of vaccines. I had mental flashbacks to scenes deeply engraved upon my heart of experiences I had as a nurse. I could not help but remember so many faces and places – and case after case of real people and real children suffering – and how terrible I felt when we couldn’t help them
all, or when it was too late. I remembered going to a little town by the mountains, where we had to travel 3 hours by bus and then walk another 30 to 45 minutes to get there. We were the news of the village and all the children ran to pass the word of our arrival.

Of course, some kids immediately went into hiding because of our white uniforms, but mothers lined up and waited in the hot sun while we set up on the concrete basketball court at the little community school. All the way to the town center, we could feel countless little eyes upon us from behind the curtains in their poor adobe homes. I joked that that if not for the mothers it would feel like we were the “bad” people and that
maybe we should not wear our uniforms as a tip off for the kids. When we got down to business, we received children who had been dehydrated for days from uncontrolled diarrhea or the rotovirus, while others showed the ravages of untreated diseases like chicken pox, measles and mumps. Still more came to us with the distended abdomens from malnutrition and the lifeless eyes of starvation.

I thought this would change for the better through the years, and it has - a little - but to my surprise, overall statistics are still high. For example, polio remains endemic in four countries: Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan. Angola, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of Congo have experienced resurgence in polio transmission. You see, this raise some questions:

How big is the problem? Approximately 1.7 million children in developing countries die each year of preventable diseases or like measles and polio, or untreated conditions like pneumonia or diarrhea.

How many people does it affect? One child dies every 20 seconds from a disease that could have been prevented by a timely applied vaccine.

Who is most affected? In view of the problem, I would hasten to say that the children of the developing countries are the most affected. However, the facts and statistics show that the world and these countries, in particular, lose valuable resources for growth and development with the loss of each child that dies before reaching adulthood. If you lose enough children in an area, that region will wither and die from the loss of its

I am proud to be a Champion Advocate for the Shot@Life Vaccines Campaign that will provide resources for vaccines needed by children all over the world. I ask you to join me in our efforts to save children everywhere by giving them a true Shot@Life with your donations and participation.

Felisa Hilbert is a 2011 Mom Congress Delegate for the State of Oklahoma; the founder of International Cultures for Education (ICE) Community PTA and an English Language Learner (ELL) Bilingual Assistant for Broken Arrow Public Schools. You can read more about her thoughts on education at Parenting magazine.

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