One Woman’s Mission: To Immunize Children Worldwide With the Polio Vaccine

Ann Lee Hussey will not rest until polio, the debilitating disease that has afflicted her since childhood, is eradicated worldwide. An inspiring look at her very personal quest.

By Jan Goodwin
Ann Lee HusseyMary Ellen Mark1 of 31.

Ann Lee Hussey

Meeting Countless Challenges

That sort of success helps Ann Lee get through the immunization trips, which can be punishing, both physically and emotionally. The weather is often scorching: Mali, 115 degrees; Nigeria, 110. The terrain is unforgiving; Ann Lee has navigated through millet fields, over rickety bridges, and through slums. She has dealt with bedbugs, food poisoning, and numerous bumps and scrapes.

In some more volatile locations, there is also the threat of violence. In Mali, just after Ann Lee visited in November 2011, three foreign tourists were kidnapped and one was killed, possibly by a group affiliated with Al-Qaeda. In Nigeria, where she often travels, ethnic clashes between Muslims and Christians have triggered multiple massacres.

What’s more, she and her team have to convince locals that they are there truly to do good. In northern Nigeria a few years ago, Ann Lee says, some religious clerics spread the word that the American vaccine would render children infertile. To prove to the villagers that there was nothing to fear, volunteers made a show of taking the oral drops themselves before inoculating the kids. “I have had women come to me in secret, asking to have their children immunized—as long as their husbands never find out,” Ann Lee says.

During the immunization trips, Ann Lee finds that locals do not believe Americans can have polio, “because we live in a rich country,” she says. “But when I roll up my pants and show them my legs, it’s obvious. I explain that Americans didn’t always have the vaccine. And I explain why we need to protect their children.”

 

 
Read More About:Preventative Health

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