My Hepatitis B Story: How an unexpected diagnosis helped fuel my advocacy for moms and children around the globe.
It all started with an unexpected email.
It came from an organization called World Vision, a humanitarian aid, development and advocacy organization that intervenes on behalf of those in urgent need around in the world. It included an invitation to go on a trip to Zimbabwe and join a group of thought leaders in learning about the pandemic around Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH).
From the onset, Jan and I knew that being on this trip was no accident. Yet as a young couple, we were curious what role we could possibly play for a cause such as this.
When we arrived in Zimbabwe, we went into the communities, going from village to village. We visited hospitals where expecting mothers would stay. We visited churches that would gather under trees. We went to schools to listen to the children.
It quickly became apparent to us that the health of mothers and their newborns were inextricably linked with global poverty alleviation. Any well-meaning global development plan and strategy will struggle to advance if generation upon generation of babies continue to be born with preventable health conditions.
And one by one, they shared their stories. Stories of families losing their newborn babies, because there weren’t enough medical resources for expecting parents. Stories of mothers having to walk 12 hours at a time to get to the nearest hospitals, so that they can have a fighting chance at having a healthy birth. Stories of young children who caught preventable diseases because doctors and vaccines are sadly limited.
We listened, and we learned. Then one evening as Jan and I were reflecting on our trip, things started to become clear. I began to realize there was more that connected me to the stories I had been hearing than I thought.
You see, about ten years ago, I learned that I had a chronic disease called Hepatitis B. It’s a liver condition that was passed down to me when I was born. In the case of my grandmother, my uncle, and more recently my cousin their Hepatitis B exacerbated to cancer and cirrhosis and ultimately took their lives.
What makes this situation so noteworthy is that this is a condition that can easily be avoided. If my parents had been given adequate medical testing, or if I was given a vaccine as a child, mother-to-child transmission can be prevented. A difference that would mean I may not have to live with this disease today.
The same thing is happening to children around the world. Over 1.5 million children die every year due to vaccine-preventable diseases. Here in the first world, I have access to routine check-ups and treatment to manage the disease — but millions of children and mothers around the world, especially those in developing countries, do not.
Check out World Vision’s ‘Beyond 5’ campaign here where you can learn the facts and stunning statistics about preventable child deaths and the solutions that are helping save lives. And you will also find inspiring success stories, read about the progress being made, and discover the roots of biblical social justice and how it motivates us to act.
Indeed, our trip to Zimbabwe convicted Jan and I about the role of the Church to be agents of justice in our communities and societies. How encouraging it was to see Zimbabwe’s local church live out its calling to be the light in its community. When Zimbabwe faced a devastating political crisis in 2008, it was the Church that stepped up and took the lead in ensuring that the immediate needs of the community were accounted for. They set up health clinics that were otherwise missing. They taught workshops so that mothers were equipped with the knowledge and resources to have safe deliveries. They built schools to ensure that the children were given a decent education. And it was a refreshing picture of a Church that understood what its purpose was and touch them where they needed it most.
And it inspired Jan and myself to use whatever platform and abilities we have to do what we were each called to do. To live out the faith and be an encouragement to those who need it. It’s why I decided to finally share my story. And it’s why I have committed to do all I can to stand in the gap for this important cause.
How incredible it is for God to turn the things meant to discourage us, to instead fuel our connection and compassion with those who are suffering around the world. Ten years ago, when I found out about my condition, I remember feeling helpless and confused. I couldn’t understand why God would allow such a thing to happen. Now it’s given me new purpose to advocate on their behalf.
I would love for you to join me in this cause.
This year, the US Senate introduced a bill that would coordinate US Government strategy to end preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths by 2035. If you feel compelled to do something about this particular cause, there are ways for you to take action. Click here to find out who your congressman or congresswoman is and send them an email urging them to sponsor the Reach Every Mother and Child Act.