Dr. Purvi Parikh, a pediatric allergist and immunologist for adults and children, recently traveled to Zambia as part of the United Nations Foundation’s vaccine initiative Shot@life. A passionate advocate for public health committed to good healthcare policy, Dr. Parikh cites her recent experience in Zambia to advocate for vaccinations.
As a clinical instructor of medicine and pediatrics at NYU-Langone Medical Center who practices at Allergy and Asthma Associates of Murray Hill, Dr. Parikh administers vaccinations daily, and often has to fight with passionate vaccination skeptics about its benefits. But what awaited her at Simonga Clinic in Zambia was unlike anything she had witnessed before.
As the sub-Saharan heat beat down on the team while it walked the few steps from the air-conditioned bus to the Simonga Clinic outside Livingstone, she thought of the Zambian women with their children in tow, sometimes making 18 km treks to clinics to vaccinate their sons and daughters. They occasionally encountered other obstacles such as monsoon rains and even animals such as elephants, zebras, and rhinos.
The Simonga Clinic works in the midst of major problems to deliver services to the thousands within its purview – dealing with labor and delivery amid power outages, no anesthesia, and of course, load shedding where power can go out for extended periods and solar power keeps vaccines from expiring.
Yet, miraculously, or rather because of the dedication of those serving and those receiving the services, the clinic manages to reach 98 percent of its vaccination rates! “That’s because of the motivation of mothers who have seen measles wipe out the children of entire villages,” Dr. Parikh says. “They have seen the ravages of preventable diseases like pneumonia or the flu. Inoculation is a gift for them and even for new vaccines, there’s barely any skepticism.”
Communicating with the population is through radio, TV, public service announcements, and texting on the cell phones, a boon in places where power is intermittent or non-existent. “God bless Martin Cooper, the inventor of cell phone technology, which can transcend socioeconomic classes, cultures, phone lines, power lines, and geography, and keep the world connected,” Dr. Parikh says.
Talking to women and children who come to the clinic, she and her teammates understand how critical the vaccine is for them – allowing some semblance of a normal life in extremely underserved areas. “It strikes me that things we take for granted such as going to school, studying, playing with our classmates, all are in jeopardy for these kids without their vaccines,” observes Dr. Parikh. Even mothers with no formal education cannot understand why parents would forgo this benefit and risk bringing back diseases considered eradicated, she notes.
That experience in Zambia has led Dr. Parikh, president of the New York Allergy and Asthma Society, to urge Americans to get behind Shot@Life (www.shotatlife.org) and donate it this holiday season. Even locally, for every vaccine received at Walgreens pharmacy, a vaccine will be donated by the company to shot@life.
Dr. Parikh is the national spokesperson for the non-profit Allergy and Asthma Network, and sigs on the health and public policy committee of the American College of Physicians.
She has published in scientific journals and presented research at national and international meetings. Dr. Parikh also sits on the advocacy council for the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.