A friend recently shared with me the story of a Kansas family, discovered in a quaint cemetery by historian blogger, Diana Staresinic-Deane. It touched my heart to the core. James and Anna O’Marra and their nine children lived south of rural Hartford in 1903. In the short span of 25 days, James and Anna lost eight to diphtheria: Maggie (6 mos.), James (4), Nora (6), Julia (9), Anastasia (13), Ellen (17), Mary (18), and William (21). Their middle daughter, 11-year-old Lizzie, was the only child to survive. Lizzie outlived her siblings by almost six decades. A mom to four children, I can barely wrap my mind around this tragedy. Can you?
The heartbreaking O’Marra story reminded me that all American children not so long ago – even my own ancestors – suffered from diseases like smallpox, diphtheria, typhoid and polio. Without vaccines, the O’Marras were quite similar to families living in developing nations today.
The World Health Organization reports that infectious diseases are still the primary cause of death for children under five years old. African children are at even greater risk if born into poverty, rural areas or to a mother without an education. Poor nutrition is a factor, too. At Stop Hunger Now, we believe in creating a difference for these children.
Nutrition and immunization offer protection. Immunizations prevent deaths by millions every year. Smallpox, polio and measles no longer exist in most places in our world. Vaccines made this possible. So, it’s no coincidence that child mortality is half what it once was.
Controversy has surrounded vaccines since the early 1900s. Yet, we know they work. Diphtheria has not been present in the U.S. for more than a decade, but persists without immunization. An outbreak of 150,000 cases spread across the Soviet Union during the 1990s.
Nutrition plus vaccination are a dynamic duo for children’s health. That’s why Stop Hunger Now aid often includes vitamins, medicines and other medical supplies along with meals. Childhood wellness depends upon these critical ingredients.
For families like the O’Marras today, immunizations offer hope. The Gates Foundation recently wrote, “When children are well-nourished, fully vaccinated, and treated for common illnesses …, the future gets a lot more predictable. Parents start making decisions based on the reasonable expectation that their children will live.”
World Immunization Week 2014 is April 24-30.
Learn more about the myths and facts of vaccination.