Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Children's Deaths Should Never Be a Footnote

I've crept away from the warm bodies of my children in my bed to get down the thoughts that are in my head tonight. Because of my work, my volunteer work, and the events of Sandy Hook this past Friday, I've been thinking a lot about the lives and deaths of children. These are a few things that happened in quick succession in the last few days listed in chronological order.

  • 20 children ages 6-7 were slain in Newtown, CT in their own school 
  • 10 girls between the ages of 9-11 were killed in a rural district of eastern Afghanistan on Monday when a roadside bomb exploded while they were collecting firewood
  • I lobbied in two Senate offices on behalf of the 20,000 children who will die this year from horrible treatable and preventable diseases like measles and polio.

I said I listed these in chronological order - not the order of the importance - because the point of my writing is this: every death among all of these children is as unacceptable as the others. None is more important than the others although every day thousands of them are just footnotes. Children's deaths should never be a footnote. But they are. Every day around the world, children are facing horrors they shouldn't have to and some are more publicized than others. The Afghani news story was about two sentences on NPR after extensive coverage of the Connecticut massacre. No coverage will ever be given to the kids who succumbed to pneumonia this weekend. Yet they were all precious lives.

President Obama said at the Sandy Hook Memorial: "If there's even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that's visited Tuscon and Aurora and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try." I agree. And I take it even farther. 

If you feel gun control of assault weapons will protect children in American schools, speak out!

If you are outraged by children hurt in by roadside bombs, landmines, or drone attacks, speak out!

If you cannot abide the thought of kids suffering needlessly from hunger and disease, speak out!

If you are driven to tears by another way kids are losing lives, don't keep it to yourself. Speak out!

Search yourself and find an action that speaks to your heart will help save lives. Then, do it. Contact your senators and representatives. Write to the President. Please don't take the business of the holiday season as an excuse for inaction. I was fortunate that I already had lobby appointments about child survival set up in Senator Durbin's and Senator Kirk's offices for today, so I got to speak my mind directly about the need for global health for kids as well as discussing Senator Durbin's positions on gun control. But I'll have much more to say on a number of topics in the coming days. 

Because as horrible as all this talk about the lives lost every day is, do remember this. Working together, we have the chance to SAVE the lives of kids every day. And that twist of thinking means all the difference to me and what I know we can accomplish if we rise up and demand better treatment for ALL children everywhere.

Not everyone believes in a heaven, but bear with my metaphor, please. The 20 tiny American souls met with 10 little Afghani souls and countless new angels from all over the world. And God spread open his arms to welcome and love them all just the same. Can't we do the same while we still have our children here on Earth?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Could You Be the Next Shot@Life Champion?

Here's an incredible opportunity for you to save millions of kids' lives and grow increase your own personal power on a global scale. Apply to become a Shot@Life Champion at the 2013 Shot@Life Champion Summit on Feb 10-12 in Washington D.C. ! It's an expense-paid (lodging & travel) opportunity for learning about the need for global vaccines against the most deadly diseases for infants...plus invaluable skill training for media, advocacy, and fundraising skills so you can effectively tell the world about how they can be involved in bringing the number of infant deaths from preventable causes to zero. It's a remarkable program! How do I know? Because I was one of the first Shot@Life champions chosen to launch the Shot@Life campaign last year. 

Shot@Life is a campaign promoting vaccines for children in developing countries to give kids everywhere a chance at, or a "shot at" (get it?) life and all the joyous milestones that come with it. As a RESULTS advocate, I was already a champion for global education, global health and microfinance. But I decided to take on this extra championship because I am also a mother of healthy children and the daughter of a public health administrator. Some issues just really hit home for personal reasons.

With the number of children dying from easily preventable diseases equal to the number of American children entering kindergarten next year, society owes it to these kids to give their parents the choice to vaccinate. It's the safest, most cost-effective way to save the most lives.

I want to shout it to the world that this has been one of the most fun and empowering experiences of my life. When I was accepted to be one of the very first champions before Shot@Life was even launched, I felt valued and honored, then scooped up and plunked into a room of 50 kindred spirits. Moms (it wasn't all moms, but mostly for the first champion summit) who are busy, loving, passionate about our causes, and always seeking to balance volunteering with work and caring for children. "All in" kinds individuals already used to throwing in all their skill and energy at something they believe in. Driven people who were similar in this characteristic, but coming from so many diverse backgrounds and skill sets as bloggers, pediatricians, advocates, etc. It has been so invigorating to learn from all of them and help each other grow. 

What specifically do I do as a Shot@Life champion? I advocate, promote and fundraise. Here's a glimpse at what me and my fellow champions have been up to:

I hope that gives a better view into what we're up to...and what you could be doing in 2013, too. Every action we take makes me feel more empowered and better connected to creating a better world for all children, including my own. Apply today for the Shot@Life Champion summitOnly 100 slots are available and the deadline is December 31. Good luck!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Shopping to Give Kids a Shot@Life

Still looking for special holiday gifts? Maybe an early Chanukah caught you unawares or you're searching for a meaningful way to put the "Christ" in Christmas. I have a suggestion...

It's simple: By donating to Shot@Life or shopping at their online store this holiday season, you are helping to give the gift of a healthy life to children around the world. 

Take a look at these great gift packages that your donations can buy. I've added some pictures from my Uganda trip with Shot@Life to help you see the real kids I met who are healthy today because of generous donors like you.

$20 provides immunizations for one child in need
Photo: InsiderImages

$60 protects 3 best friends from deadly diseases
Photo: Cindy Levin

$100 provides 5 classmates vaccines they need to survive & thrive
Photo: Cindy Levin

$1000 provides vaccines for an entire community
Photo: Insider Images

Even better, if you donate now, you'll receive a 25% off coupon code to purchase gifts on the Shot@Life online store. Woo! My favorite items are the Camelback water bottle, the iPhone cover, and the ShootieGirl rhinestone T-shirts...hint, hint...but there are lots of other cool things, too!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Front Line Healthcare Workers are Heroes

A UNICEF staffer in Uganda assisting with a Family Health Care day

Through my advocacy work with RESULTS, I have become more and more aware of the importance of front line health care workers in remote areas where people live in extreme poverty. We can throw all the money we want at global health problems like AIDS or malaria, but without competent and dedicated staff in the field it would all be for nothing. Working on the ground to stop tuberculosis, for instance, inherently means risk of exposure to an airborne disease. Many times, lack of medical resources means lack of basic resources (like water!). These are the most challenging of conditions for any medical caregiver to work in.

I'll go ahead and admit that even though I'm an adult, sometimes a cartoon graphic can still help me understand more than a few paragraphs of text. So, when I came across this post on the website of the Frontline Health Workers Coalition, I wanted to share it to others. It is unbelievable how brave the caregivers are who administer life-saving care out in the field. They are heroes.

Please read Sarah Dwyer's post below and if you want to help, make sure your U.S. representative is on House Resolution 734, which recognizes the importance of frontline health workers toward accelerating progress on global health. I lobbied my representative, Congresswoman Jan Schakowksy, to co-sign it. My colleagues and I even convinced Representative Bob Dold (who rarely took action on global health issues) to co-sign it and write an op-ed in our local media in praise of it!

Saving Lives Shouldn’t Mean You Risk Your Own

Posted on 
By Sarah Dwyer and Rachel Deussom, IntraHealth International
Health workers shouldn’t have to put themselves at risk in order to do their jobs. But in fact, many frontline health workers face a wide range of occupational safety and health hazards—biological, physical, chemical, and psychosocial, as well as gender-based violence and discrimination.
Let’s take a look at one health worker—the nurse below on the left.
She’s facing a heavy workload and has many patients seeking her attention. The nurse is aware that the facility needs to be cleaned regularly to reduce risk of infection, but the janitor is absent. The lack of running water makes it even more challenging.
Our health worker is a dedicated employee—rather than leave when her shift is over, she takes time after the clinic is closed to do the cleaning. But the absence of her colleagues means more work for her, and she may not be able to do it all while taking measures to protect herself. Some health facilities lack proper disposal equipment, which can be dangerous for both the health workers and their patients.
Now it’s very late, and our health worker has to get herself home after dark. The road may not be safe, especially for a woman traveling alone. And when she gets home, she’ll have to do a lot of housework, meal preparation, and child care.
Then tomorrow she’ll do it all over again.
How can we help this nurse and other health workers like her? A new CapacityPlus technical brief, Ensuring a Positive Practice Environment: Occupational Safety and Health for Health Worker Productivity, outlines ways to make health workers’ safety a higher-level policy issue and shows how to create working environments that prioritize occupational health.
Just a few of the many hazards include:
  • Lack of sterile equipment and proper waste management
  • Exposure to bacteria, parasites, and blood-borne viruses such as HIV and hepatitis as well as communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, avian flu, and swine flu
  • Physical strain and injury
  • Bleach, lead, flammables, solvents, noxious vapors, and radiation
  • Stress, fear caused by violence or verbal abuse, and depression
The good news is that improving safety in the workplace can help address other service delivery issues and result in additional gains, from increased motivation and productivity to a stronger-functioning team.
To learn more, read the technical brief, and please let us know what you think. What are the occupational safety and health hazards faced by you or health workers you know? What is being done to reduce these hazards?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Preparing for Christmas with America's 6th Child

Advent has begun and I - like many Christians - started a spiritual journey to prepare for Christmas. As part of my reflection, I am re-reading this powerful piece I've included below. It's "America's Sixth Child" by Marian Wright Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund...who is also a board member of my favorite advocacy organization, RESULTS. 

Whatever holiday you celebrate or don't, remember that this is a hard time of year to be a child in poverty in America. Reach out in whatever way seems best to you. Here are my favorites, which can involve your own children, too.

  • Urge Congress to support SNAP benefits, Early Head Start, and child care for low-income families
  • Volunteer or give to your local food pantry
  • Organize a food drive or a book drive
  • Participate in a food re-pack session at the Greater Chicago Food Depository (not for young children)
  • Join an organization that advocates for the needs of young children. I suggest Bread for the World or RESULTS.
  • Give to Toys for Tots
  • Donate new or gently used baby items to a women's shelter or organization for teen mothers

by Marian Wright Edelman

On the day he died, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called his mother to give her his next Sunday's sermon title: "Why America May Go to Hell." In his 1968 call for a Poor People's Campaign, he warned that "America is going to hell if we don't use her vast resources to end poverty and make it possible for all of God's children to have the basic necessities of life."

As Christians prepare to celebrate the birth of the most famous poor baby in history, imagine God seeing our very wealthy family blessed with six children. Five of them have enough to eat and comfortable warm rooms in which to sleep. One does not. She is often hungry and cold. On some nights, she has to sleep on the streets or in a shelter and even be taken away from her neglectful family and placed in foster care or a group home with strangers.

Imagine this rich family giving five of its children nourishing meals three times a day, snacks to fuel boundless energy, but sending the sixth child from the table to school hungry, with only one or two meals and never the dessert the other children enjoy.

Imagine this very wealthy family making sure five of its children get all of their shots, regular health checkups before they get sick, and immediate access to health care when illness strikes but ignoring the sixth child, who is plagued by chronic respiratory infections and painful toothaches, which sometimes abscess and kill for lack of a doctor or a dentist.

Imagine this family sending five of their children to good stimulating preschools and making sure they have music and swimming lessons after school but sending the sixth child to unsafe daycare with untrained caregivers responsible for too many children or leaving her occasionally with an accommodating relative or neighbor or older sibling or alone.

Imagine five of the children living with books in family that is able to read to most of its children every night, but leaving the other child unread to, untalked and unsung to, unhugged, or propped before a television screen or video game that feeds him violence and sex and racially-and gender-charged messages, intellectual pabulum, interrupted only by ceaseless ads for material things beyond the child's grasp.

Imagine this family sending some of their children to high-quality schools in safe neighborhoods with enough books and computers and laboratories and science equipment and well-prepared teachers but sending the sixth child to a crumbling school building with peeling ceilings and leaks and lead in the paint and asbestos and old, old books--and not enough of them--and teachers untrained in the subjects they teach and with low expectations that all children can learn, especially the sixth child.

Imagine most of the family's children being excited about learning, and looking forward to finishing high school, going to college, and getting a job, but the sixth child falling further and further behind grade level, not being able to read, wanting to drop out of school, and being suspended and expelled at younger and younger ages, because no one has taught him to read and compute. And no one has diagnosed his attention deficit disorder or treated his health and mental health problems or helped him keep up with his peers.

Imagine five of the children engaged in sports and music and arts, in after-school activities and summer camps, and in enrichment programs, but the sixth child hanging out with dubious peers or going home alone because Mom and Dad are working, in prison, or have run away from their parenting responsibilities and escaped by using drugs and alcohol, leaving him alone or on the streets during idle nonschool hours and weeks and months, at risk of being sucked into illegal activities and the prison pipeline or killed in our gun-saturated nation.

This is our American family today, where one in six 13 million of our children lives in poverty in the richest nation on earth, more than 40 percent in extreme poverty. It is not a stable, healthy, economically sensible, or just family. Our failure to invest in all our children before they get sick, or drop out of school, get pregnant, or get into trouble is extremely costly. Every year that we let 13 million children live in poverty costs $500 billion in lost productivity, crime, and health costs.

As our political leaders ponder our nation's choices over the next 60 days, let them remember the millions of children living in poverty and extreme poverty and without health coverage and put their needs first and not last. Our economic futures depend on it and so does our nation's soul.

- Marian Wright Edelman

Marian Wright Edelman, author of The Sea Is So Wide And My Boat Is So Small: Charting a Course for the Next Generation, is president of the Children's Defense Fund. For more information about the Children's Defense Fund, go to http://www.childrensdefense.org/

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Shot@Life Uganda Trip Blog: World AIDS Day

I’m thinking about Uganda again on World AIDS Day. We’ve come so far since I was a child and no one knew what was causing AIDS or how not to get it. I remember a lot of misinformation, even a letter from my church about how congregants did not have to sip from the cup at communion anymore if they were worried about getting AIDS.

Thank goodness we know a lot more now. We have drugs so that people can live with AIDS. We can prevent mother-to-child transmission. And the numbers of deaths have declined enormously. I heard on the radio that 1.7 million people died of AIDS in 2011 (www.globalhealthfacts.org) – still 1.7 million too many. But consider also that 19 million HIV-positive people are receiving care and support, according to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria.

The end of AIDS is a real possibility in our lifetime.

Yet for all our tech advances, something that our world still fights is misinformation and stigma. On my trip to Uganda with Shot@Life, I came face to face with challenges on the ground that only education and awareness can solve. Edward, a health care worker in Fort Portal, Uganda spoke to me and my fellow Shot@Life Champion, Jen Burden of World Moms Blog, at length about two social challenges his country.

Photo: Stephanie Geddes
1. The availability of effective drugs makes people less worried about AIDS.
With the availability of drugs for treatment, the condition of HIV/AIDS can now be hidden. A positive HIV test does not necessarily mean death or stigma anymore. “They can be HIV positive and they can still work. They can still look good and look healthy,” Edward said. So, many women and men are not taking the transmission of the disease as seriously as before. In fact, single women are far more concerned about avoiding pregnancy than avoiding AIDS, which can be hidden. Pregnancy cannot be concealed. While the women in the area we visited are very concerned about contraception to prevent pregnancy, they don’t always choose condoms – a method that would also prevent AIDS transmission.

2. Married women may be kicked out the home if they are HIV positive.
I heard this from several frontline health care workers and from a panel of mothers we interviewed on site. Although it is commonly known that the infidelity of husbands often spreads AIDS to wives, if a man finds out that a woman is HIV positive, he will accuse her of being unfaithful and contracting the disease from another man. Without being tested himself, he will divorce the woman. Her life will be shattered and his behavior will not change.

Yet Edward told us that if husbands and wives find out that they are HIV positive at the same time, they both receive counseling and medication together and have a very good chance at having happy lives. Uganda is conducting a campaign to encourage husbands and wives to be tested together at the Family Health Days conducted at mosques and churches. These are places that spouses come together, unlike the hard-to-reach clinics where often women come alone if they come at all.

Education and awareness are just as critical to beating the AIDS epidemic as technology and medications. I am hopeful, though, as I think on the emerging Family Health Day programs Edward and others bring to remote areas. And I'm also hopeful about the the AIDS awareness signs I saw all over the campus of Railway Primary School in the slums of Kampala, bringing awareness to children as soon as they can read. 


I'm proud of our world for how far we've come and if we don't let up on our advocacy, I believe we can reach the end of AIDS. Please join the fight and take action today to tell your senators and representative to support the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria.