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Will rally be "too political"?

Will rally be "too political"?

Will the meningitis trust be accused of being too politically active when it marches through the streets of Wellington tomorrow? . The Trust together with mums, dads and concerned citizens will march to the lawns of the Beehive in Wellington pleading with the government to put a new vaccine on the free list for 2008.

With the breaking news associated with the legislation announced by the charities commission, the actions taken by this group to save the lives of our babies could be severely limited by the enforcement of this prescriptive legislation.

"We must be able to make ourselves heard," says trust general manager Fiona Colbert.

Fiona, a nurse and midwife in London before moving to New Zealand, has first-hand experience with pneumococcal disease. Her son contracted it as a baby. Her son Corbin made a remarkable recovery, but it made the Colbert family realize what a close call they had. So rather than let it happen to other families, she got off her backside and is now a crusader for providing advocacy and both emotional and practical support to families whose lives are affected by all strains of bacteria that cause meningitis.

The vaccine would virtually eliminate the deadly pneumoccocal disease that globally accounts for about 20% of all child deaths and other disabilities including cerebral palsy, pneumonia, bacterial otitis media (glue ear) and sinusitis. It affects about 500 New Zealanders every year, 150 of whom will develop meningitis.

Under the new bill, the Meningitis Trust would face being struck off the charities register for acting more politically than as a charity.

The trust is making a final plea to the ITWG (Immunisation Technology Working Group) who will meet next week to make recommendations to the government as to whether the pneumococcal vaccine should be given funding in 2008.

A colourful procession, will gather force at the cenotaph, including a Toddle Waddle duck (a Meningitis Trust campaign mascot) and a group of about 50 pre-school children, to march up to the lawn of Parliament and present a public appeal to Health Minister Pete Hodgson.

The public appeal is made up of over 2000 cards, letters and e-mails that were part of a Meningitis Trust website and postcard campaign, where people could indicate support in an e-card or fax to Health Minister Pete Hodgson or Prime Minister Helen Clark, in order to get the pneumococcal vaccine on the free list.

The children on the march will carry blocks, each named with one of the illnesses that can result from pneumococcal disease, and which many of the families present have experienced. They will build the blocks into a wall about one metre high and 2.5 metres long. The march will also include banners bearing the country flags of countries that already have free access to the vaccine. They include Canada, UK, Australia and Mexico.

Fiona will lead tomorrow's parade, surrounded by supporters and friends united in their desire to see the vaccine made available to all families and save other children from death and disability. It would be a travesty that the voice of the community to make our elected officials aware of such issues is lost through the enforcement of this legislation.


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