Have you ever wanted to be part of something bigger than yourself? Have you ever dreamed of changing the world? Advocating for health policy that directly affects the health of individuals and communities as well as our profession is one of the easiest and most important ways to do this.
Earlier this week, I spent a day advocating on Capitol Hill. I met with the staff of my senators and representative in Congress with the United Nations Foundation initiative called Shot@Life. Through this initiative, over 150 individuals from more than 30 states advocated for continued funding from the U.S. government to support immunization efforts throughout the world. Over the past five years, Shot@Life has advocated for government funding and President Obama has pledged one billion dollars for these efforts. This is less than 1% of our total Federal budget; our total military budget is $585 Billion. Global health and immunizations in particular, are not only a matter of “doing the right thing.” Global health support helps to protect our nation.
As our society becomes more transient and global with world wide travel becoming more common, affordable, and easy, disease transmission can be just a plane ride away. I live in the DC Metro area where we have some of the busiest airports in the country. This threat directly affects my family, community, and patient population. When the Ebola outbreak happened in Nigeria, community health stations that were created for immunization and other public health efforts were able to be efficiently converted to centers to evaluate and treat individuals who may have been exposed to Ebola. This helped to prevent a serious epidemic in Nigeria.
As a primary care provider, I recognize that immunizations are one of the most important public health interventions of the past century. Diseases such as polio, that are endemic in only two countries right now (Pakistan and Afghanistan) could make a resurgence, if immunization efforts are not supported. Despite the 99.9% decrease in polio cases in the past 30 years, polio continues to be a threat to the entire world. Imagine living in a world that is free of polio. Complications from diarrheal disease kill more children under the age of five worldwide than any other disease. We have a safe vaccine to combat rotavirus, but it is only effective if it can get to the children who need it most; those living in developing countries who often lack the benefit of adequate medical care. Four hundred children die each day from measles, a disease the U.S. had eradicated from our borders by the year 2000. However, in the past two years, with a measles outbreak in an Amish community in Ohio and at a California theme park, we once again have active measles cases within our boarders.
This issue happens to be one of my passions. What is your passion? I challenge you to find one issue and advocate for it. How will you be an advocate for your family, your patients, your community and your profession?