Here in Uganda I’ve learned and observed that children and families have many, many needs: clean water, text books, clothing, education, to name just a few. But when you think about it, unless one has their health, their life, all other needs become secondary.
In the last three weeks, back home in Utah, I’ve taken two of my children to their annual well checks with our family pediatrician. Their visits, in part, consisted of a blood pressure check, measuring of height and weight, vision check, discussion of their emotional well-being, and an offering of scheduled vaccinations. Both of my kids who have had well checks this month received shots, and neither wanted them. My daughter sobbed while I held her hands so that she couldn’t push the nurse’s hand away from her leg as the syringe delivered the medication. When it came time for my son to get his shots, it took me using all my strength to hold him still, plus the nurse administering the vaccines, and a third nurse to help hold him still. It was a big effort by a few people, but my kids got the medicine they need, and, for the record, they did stop crying, and now they don’t have to worry about getting sick from those preventable illnesses.
In both instances, while I held my children’s hands and did my best to keep them still and calm, I whispered to them, “It’s okay. Mommy’s here. These shots help you be healthy.”
At Family Health Day on Friday, I was reminded that a child’s cries know no language; there were kids who didn’t want to get the vaccines, and that’s normal. My thoughts turned to the mothers. They’re just like me, they want their kids to be healthy and safe. But it’s not as easy for them. For me, getting my children vaccinated was a matter of making a phone call to schedule an appointment and then driving to the doctor’s office. For them, going to the health clinic might not be an option; the distance may be too far. Even if they do make it to a clinic, there’s no guarantee that the proper vaccines would be available. Still, their children get sick just like mine do, but their kids are at risk for diseases like polio; even getting diarrhea can be life-threatening. And when you’re a mother and your kid is sick, a part of you feels helpless; you’d do ANYTHING to help your child feel, and be, well.
I saw mothers doing exactly what they could for their kids on Friday. They were told that health services and monitoring would be available for their families at their local mosque, and they showed up. Following their worship services they waited for their turn to get their children the life-saving vaccines they needed. Sometimes the wait was long, and it was hot outside; I’m sure they weren’t the most comfortable. But as moms, they did what they needed to do, and the health workers were able to do their job of distributing the proper medications and then documenting the process. It was a big effort by a few people but the kids got the medicine they need. The moms comforted their kids with the assurance that they were getting medicine to help them be healthy, and in the process gave their children a shot.
Not just an injection, but a chance: a shot at a future with cleaner water, a shot at getting textbooks, at uniforms, at an education.
These mothers gave their children a Shot at Life. When these kids have their health, all the secondary needs move forward, ready to be addressed.
I am in Uganda as a Shot@Life Champion with the United Nations Foundation. Today (Sunday) we will be visiting families at local churches to see how having access to vaccines has affected their lives.