Every 20 seconds, a child around the world dies from a disease that could have been prevented by a vaccine. Annually, that number equals almost half the children entering kindergarten in the United States alone this year.
As a mother, I find that devastating.
As a human being, I find it inexcusable.
So, last week, I left my own family and work responsibilities to travel across the country to join 100 other Shot@Life Champions, meet with my elected officials on Capitol Hill and advocate for global immunization. It was one of the most meaningful experiences I've ever had.
Shot@Life is a grassroots campaign developed by the United Nations Foundation to educate Americans about the importance of global vaccines as one of the most cost-effective methods of saving children's lives in developing countries. It's what Real Simple editor and Shot@Life partner Kristin van Ogtrop calls "stupid easy."
It costs just $20 to vaccinate a child against four of the most deadly and disabling diseases: measles, pneumonia, diarrhea and polio. Yet, with the U.S. budget in crisis, funds for foreign aid are on the chopping board.
Before you say, "those diseases aren't our problem and we don't have money to spend on other countries when our own economy is suffering," here are some facts that resonated with me:
* All of these diseases are just a plane ride away. The world has gotten very small, and if someone with one of those diseases brings it here, it can easily become our problem again.
* Thanks to major vaccination efforts, the number of cases of polio - a disease that once claimed the lives of millions of people and left almost 1000 children paralyzed every day - has dropped by 99 percent around the world. Global health experts once warned that India would be the hardest place to end polio, but the country has been polio-free for two years now. With only three countries left, we can actually eradicate polio in our lifetime. What a huge victory that would be! And it's within our reach.
* By focusing on ending these diseases now, we will ultimately save over $7 billion in treatment costs - costs we can take out of the budget forever. We will reap another $144 billion in economic yield and, most importantly, save the lives of more than 6 million children.
* Polls show that Americans assume 20 to 50 percent of the U.S. budget goes toward foreign affairs, and believe the number should be closer to five percent. The truth is less than one percent goes toward foreign aid, with only a small portion of that earmarked for global health. Five percent would be a welcome and much-needed 500 percent increase!
Many politicians are already on board. Our California contingent - the largest group at the Shot@Life Champion Summit, and one that included doctors, students, parents and bloggers, both male and female, from teens to boomers - received a warm welcome from representatives of Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, Congressman Henry Waxman and Congresswoman Barbara Lee, all of whom pledged their continued support of this bipartisan, humanitarian issue.
For me, personally, one of the highlights of the trip was listening to a group of women who had traveled to Uganda with Shot@Life and who had seen firsthand the impact it was making. I was particularly moved by the stories and pictures of mothers who had walked miles and waited hours just to get their children vaccinated, and who proudly showed off the immunization cards which they considered their most valuable treasures.
It is in solidarity with these mothers that I will write, advocate and fundraise. Until every one of them is able to experience the relief of having their babies vaccinated, I will put in the time and distance in their honor to give their children - like mine - a shot at life.