Skip the greeting cards and spread the word

May 06, 2010


This Mother's Day, my sons will be 15 and 12 years old.

We have come a long way from when they were babies and I was floundering as a new mother.  Back in those days, it was challenging to learn what they needed and how to meet those needs, especially when they were sick.  My youngest would come down with croup, when his breathing was labored and his cough sounded like the bark of a seal. It was frightening but we learned how to help him through by sitting with him in the steamy bathroom.  Of course, both boys had plenty of episodes of diarrhea but there was one memorable time when my older son had a terrible bout that included vomiting. I tried to give him fluids but he couldn't keep them downand,  again, I was frightened.

Fortunately, he recovered without me having to take him to the hospital, but if he had needed emergency care, it was 10 minutes away, with a full staff and inventory of treatments. As a mother in the US, I have always had the resources around when I needed to help my children. But for the mother in Mali, whose child may be malnourished, exposed to multiple infections, and miles from any type of care or a source of clean water, how can she protect her child?

My boys have survived despite my clumsy mothering, not least because of all the advantages that are the luck of geography. Growing up in the US, my boys have safe water, indoor toilets, up-to-date school books and facilities, all the recommended vaccines, and health care whenever they need it.  My job as a parent was far easier than what parents in poor countries face. What must it be like to nurture and love a child only to feel absolutely helpless when he or she is sick and needing care that is out of reach?

Diarrhea exemplifies these disparities. For our children, it is a discomfort. For children in Asia and Africa, it is a death sentence. And yet we have more proven interventions to prevent and treat diarrhea than any other major child killer. We can save millions of children's lives by making these solutions (oral rehydration therapy, zinc, vaccines, breastfeeding, and water/sanitation) available to the countries that need them most.

For Mother's Day, let's skip the flowers and the greeting cards. Instead, let's spread the news about what we can do to help mothers keep their children safe from diarrhea. You can start by learning more and linking in others you know.  Tell them about kids dying of diarrhea and how we can all make a difference if we Talk About It.

-- Eileen Quinn is Director of Communications and Advocacy for PATH's Vaccine Development program and mother of two boys.