As a polio survivor, I follow progress of efforts to eliminate this disease, and one of the best reports out there is the one from the Independent Monitoring Board. While reading their latest report last week, I was glad to see highlighted the critical role of parents in eradication efforts. Parental demand, the IMB reported, is the “one single change that would transform the Programme more than any other.”
This summer, I saw first-hand the importance of engaging parents in the effort to create a polio-free world. During a visit to Karachi, Pakistan sponsored by Rotary International, I joined a local UNICEF team during a national immunization campaign. Supported by my brace and crutches, I climbed 12 flights of stairs to an apartment to speak with a family who had refused polio vaccines for their children.
I showed them my legs and, through translation, shared my story of how I contracted polio as a baby in India because I did not receive polio vaccines. After several minutes, they opened their door and I was honored to give vaccines to their children. These parents encouraged others in the complex to accept the vaccine, becoming polio advocates themselves.
Throughout history, efforts from parents have been essential to combat polio. In the 1950s, mothers in Canada and the US through the March of Dimes and Marching Mothers campaigns knocked on countless doors to collect money—one dime at a time—to help fund research for the development of polio vaccines. Today, these vaccines are ridding the world of this disease.
Effectively communicating to parents that polio vaccines are safe and can protect their children from polio is critical. In my experience, it is also important to listen to these parents to further understand their other health needs. These conversations can help open the door for parents to recognize the importance of other interventions that protect children, such as vaccines that protect children against other vaccine-preventable diseases. Parents hold the keys that unlock closed doors that enable us to give children a shot at life.