When I was growing up in Philadelphia, I remember hearing the word “pneumonia” many times. Someone would get sick, go to the doctor or have a brief stay in the hospital, then come home and go back to work. But little did I know that pneumonia would end up hitting so close, actually too close, to home. When I was a first time mother more than 15 years ago and my daughter was 9 months old, my beautiful mother passed away at the age of 60, just twelve days before Christmas. She had struggled with a neuromuscular disorder called Myasthenia Gravis and the complications resulting from it for many years. The years of treatment had weakened her body so that her immune system was ultimately not able to fight off infection. As a result, she developed pneumonia and was hospitalized for it on numerous occasions. My dream of all dreams when I became a new mother was for my mother to be there…to be a part of my journey…and to have the opportunity that she had dreamed, of being a grandmother to my children. But in the end, her final bout of pneumonia was just too much for her weak and failing body. The very sad irony of all of this was that for years growing up, my mother would tell me stories about her older sister, whom I did not have the pleasure of ever meeting because she developed chicken pox at the age of 26 and died. As it turned out, her chicken pox had developed into a fatal case of pneumonia.
Often there is great focus on some of the more talked about diseases and infections…and rightly so. But some issues, like pneumonia, are begging our attention…particularly because it is often preventable. According to the World Health Organization, pneumonia is the SINGLE largest cause of death in children worldwide. Do you hear that everyone? The SINGLE largest cause of death in children worldwide. Every year, it kills an estimated 1.4 million children under the age of five years, accounting for 18% of all deaths of children under five years old worldwide. That’s a statistic that I don’t hear that often, but it’s one that should cause us all to raise our attention and do our part to see to it that more children, and adults for that matter, are not devastated by this infection. Sadly, it is the children in developing countries who do not have the same access to quality care that we do, suffering the most.
As national president of a nonprofit organization of mothers of color, Mocha Moms, Inc., it is important for us to do our part to sound the alarm about this devastating infection. Not only do we need to raise more awareness, we need to fight for more to be done to reduce these dire worldwide statistics. All of these children are our children and we need to give them the shot at life they all deserve.