Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Three Reasons to Celebrate Women Working to End Polio, This Mother’s Day

May 07, 2013

As we celebrate the Mother’s Day in 2013, we have reasons to feel more grateful than ever to the women who have been at the fore-front of the epic battle against polio in protecting the future of their children and their community. Three examples stand out to me.

  • Walking miles to vaccinate a child:  I remember clearly meeting a young mother of three children on a rainy day in southern Assam, India while I was working with the WHO on polio eradication efforts in 2006. When I asked the woman how she managed to come to the polio vaccination booth this rainy Sunday, she responded, “I don’t mind walking for a mile because I know I’m doing something that will make sure my daughters can walk and run for miles when they grow up”. Mothers like her, from millions of households across the globe, have taken their kids to the vaccination centers, time and again, ensuring their children will too walk and run miles in their futures. Often times, such visits to far away health clinics or vaccination booths meant loss of daily wages, traveling for long distances, and at times even going against the wishes of the “head” of the family and traditions that did not allow women to step out of the confines of their homes. The Polio Sundays could not have succeeded without the mothers who brought their kids to get vaccinated.

Drops of care: A Lady Health Supervisor vaccinating a child, South 24 Parganas, West Bengal

  • Tirelessly working to protect the community: I salute the women responsible for vaccinating children, those who have exemplified the essence of “motherhood”– to protect those who need it the most. Involvement of female vaccinators from the local communities has been a hugely successful intervention in the eradication program, and has led to markedly better quality of vaccination campaigns. Their courage in facing the adversities, both natural (flood, inclement weather, inaccessibility) and man-made (insecurity, political instabilities); and their dedication in walking bare footed for miles with a vaccine carrier on their back to reach the hardest to reach areas, have contributed to ending polio in India and on the verge of being eradicated from all corners of the earth.

Sharing knowledge: A vaccinator training other vaccinators and Medical Officers at an open air training session, Madhubani, Bihar

  • Spirit of Universal Motherhood to protect all children forever: Although we are closer than ever to eradicating polio, the job is not done yet. Kids continue to get infected and paralyzed by this disease. And therefore, it is all the more important to carry the momentum forward and wipe out the virus from its last reservoirs. The realization of this collective responsibility in the “spirit of motherhood” of protecting our community and understanding the shared risk of vulnerability to communicable diseases such as polio will certainly get us one more step closer towards finishing polio off once and for all. For me, the polio vaccinators have redefined universal motherhood, and our current and future generations will be ever grateful for the invaluable commitment and service.

I feel more confident than ever that the empowered and enlightened mothers of our time will continue to be the change agents in our societies with continued resilience in initiatives such as vaccination, family planning and basic education; and thereby will offer our kids a healthier, happier and safer world. This is a dream, I am sure, every mother nurtures for her children.

 
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