Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Tale of Two Fathers

June 13, 2013

This post is part of a series of blog posts on Impatient Optimists in honor of Father's Day in the US, on Sunday, June 16. 

This father’s day I’m missing my two daughters as I travel through Nigeria and Congo learning about how Africans are improving vaccination in the region. While I’d rather be at home with Abby and Jessie, I’m propelled along these travels by memories of two African fathers. Both represent the best in fathers everywhere. But one scene is altogether too common and the other altogether too uncommon and together they represent the reason I work at the Gates Foundation.

Last year at the Princess Marie Louise Children's Hospital in Accra, Ghana I was moved by the unforgettable scene of a father imploring his son to fight the pneumonia that was taking his life. Every child death is a tragedy and watching a child die from pneumonia – the illness that claims the lives of more children than any other - is particularly awful. Typically, a child with pneumonia can be recognized initially by their rapid breathing.  As their lungs fill with fluid, they work harder and harder to get oxygen.  When pneumonia takes the life of a child, though, the rapid breathing is replaced by a dramatic slowing in their breathing. They simply can’t keep up. They run out of energy and can’t keep working that hard to breathe.  Until eventually they stop altogether. 

This Ghanaian father probably didn’t know the biological details of what was happening in his child’s chest. What this father – and any father – couldn’t miss though was the fact that his child was expiring before his eyes.  Like me, you, or any father, he stood by his son, willing his energy into his son, imploring him to draw the strength he needed from the reserves that the father had.  Ultimately, it wasn’t enough and his son, Isiah, succumbed to the pneumonia.  But it wasn’t for a lack of a father’s love, effort, or will and it bears testimony to the fierce love that fathers everywhere bring to the bedside when their children are ill.

The other scene that drives me onward this weekend comes from Zanzibar where, together with GAVI Alliance CEO Seth Berkley, I visited a busy child health clinic during a vaccination session.  As happens all around Africa every day, a large group of women congregated, with their babies, to make sure that they received the life-saving vaccines that they need.  But in this case, I saw a rare difference - among this sea of women was a single father who had joined the group with his own child. 

So, this father’s day, I’m urging fellow fathers around the world to get as involved in their children’s health as they are when their children are ill.  Fathers everywhere want the best for their kids and, as I saw in Ghana, pour their souls out when their children are gravely ill.  But all too often they are missing from the vaccination clinic, one of the key steps to preventing serious illnesses like the pneumonia that took Isiah.

 To learn more about how you can get involved with improving access to vaccines, visit the GAVI Alliance's Every Child Campaign

 
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