THE BLOG
04/30/2013 10:14 am ET Updated Jun 30, 2013

Why I'm Happy To Be a Doctor in the 21st Century

HARVEY KARP

This post is part of the Global Mom Relay. Every time you share this blog, $5 will go to women and girls around the world. Scroll to the bottom to find out more.

The morning market in Luang Prabang, in Laos, was a dense mix of straw mats, piles of fruit, mounds of sticky rice, and fresh fish and chicken that villagers would make into that night's soup.

The Laotian people reflect the gentle nature of this land with its slow-moving Mekong River, saffron-robed monks, and shyly giggling children.

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My wife was entertaining a pod of three-year-olds by singing "It's a Small World." One child with a particularly radiant face wore a Superman shirt and cape. Slowly my thoughts rose into the thick clouds as I thought about the dedicated mothers of these beautiful boys and girls.

I recalled the thousands of mothers I've worked with as a pediatrician over the past 30 years. These women live all over the globe, but they share one primal desire -- to love and protect their children.

Three key tools help mothers today shield their little ones from harm. Two are extremely simple: clean water and nutritious food. But the third is one of the most complex and brilliant creations of science: immunizations.

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At very little cost, immunizations protect kids from the world's most ferocious terrorist -- childhood infections. The CDC estimates that each year they save 2 to 3 million children from terrible deaths and guard many more from the brain damage and paralysis caused by diseases like measles and polio.

When I was young, New York suffered its last summer epidemic of polio. Silently, this common virus would hide in playgrounds and stores and sneak into children's bodies. Within days, it would begin an assault against their arms and legs and spines and turn thousands of happy children into lifelong paraplegics. (My childhood friend was one of the last victims of this faceless attacker.) Today, I can barely imagine the worry my mother must have felt when she allowed my sisters and me to play at the community pool.

Then, in the 1950s, a miracle occurred! Western medicine blessed mothers with the extraordinary gift of a polio vaccine. By the 1970s polio was banished from the developed world. And by the 1990s this nightmare was eradicated from almost every nation on earth.

Then, like a guardian angel, Western medicine gave parents even more immunizations with the power to protect their precious children against a gang of cruel killers, including measles (which caused pneumonia, blindness, and death in millions of children), rubella or German measles (whose attacks could cause stillbirth and mental retardation), and meningitis (provoking excruciating brain inflammation, deafness, and a terrible choking death).

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As I watched my wife sing to that innocent little "Superman" and his friends, I imagined each of them protected by an invisible vaccine bubble -- a bubble so light it was impossible to feel, yet so tough it would guard them for decades to come. I felt so happy and privileged to be a doctor and to live in this lucky time.

Each time you share this Global Mom Relay piece on Facebook, Twitter, or Email, or donate $5 or more through clicking on the above graphic, a $5 donation (up to $500,000) will be donated by Johnson & Johnson and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to Shot@Life. $5 protects a child from polio and measles for his/her lifetime. Funds go to WHO, UNICEF and the GAVI Alliance who distribute them to the programs and countries with the greatest need at the time. Join us by sharing it forward and unlock the potential for women and children around the globe. For more information, visit www.unfoundation.org/globalmomrelay. The United Nations Foundation, Johnson & Johnson, BabyCenter, The Huffington Post, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation created the Global Mom Relay, a first-of-its-kind virtual relay with a goal of improving the lives of women and children around the globe.

This post originally appeared on BabyCenter.com.

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