Archbishop Tutu supports vaccination; almost died of polio
Written by Yazeed Kamaldien
Were it not for vaccines, Archbishop Desmond Tutu would have died long ago of polio.
The Cape Town-based human rights activist battled with polio when he was a child, he revealed in an article about vaccinations. It was published during the health department’s immunisation campaign against measles and polio that started on April 29 and runs until June 28.
“Over my lifetime, I have been fortunate to witness the extraordinary impact that vaccines have had on protecting children from illness and death, especially in the developing world,” wrote Tutu.
“Vaccines have always had a special meaning for me. As a young child in South Africa, I nearly died from polio. Back then, in the early 1930’s, there was no vaccine for this highly infectious disease. With good reason, parents everywhere were terrified that polio virus (would) cause irreversible paralysis in a matter of hours, or, worse, death in a matter of days.”
Tutu added: “Doctors told my parents that little could be done for me, so my father prepared for my funeral. Fortunately, I recovered, except for the use of my right hand.
“I have gone on to live a wonderful life, but the paralysis in my hand is a daily reminder of why we must urgently pursue the eradication of polio and ensure that all children have access to the vaccines that they need.”
Tutu said he supported vaccines because they “are inexpensive and easy to deliver, and they protect children for a lifetime.”
“Vaccines have already eradicated smallpox, and dramatically reduced child deaths and disease associated with measles, diphtheria, and tetanus.”
He also mentioned the Global Vaccine Summit held last week in Abu Dhabi. It was the first global summit to focus on vaccines and was a partnership between the Abu Dhabi government, business leader Bill Gates and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.
Tutu said health authorities should ensure that there was “no distance between rich and poor, and no distinctions among communities” when providing vaccinations.
The national health department’s immunisation campaign is being conducted in the Western Cape by local and provincial health departments.
The campaign sees health care workers administering free polio and measles immunisation at crèches and health facilities until May 17. A second round of immunisation will cover only polio between June 17 and 28.