Updated: Jul 21
08 March 2018
Written by Becky Parry
In 1910, Clara Zetkin suggested that every country should celebrate women on one day each year to promote equal rights. The International Women’s Conference supported her suggestion, and in 1911, International Women’s Day (IWD) was observed for the first time by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.
Today, IWD campaigns for gender parity and connects women from all over the world through the recognition of their social, political, cultural and economic achievements. Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, founder of the Women in Leadership publication, says that IWD is the “one day of the year that recognises the value that women bring to individual communities and collectively to the world, and showcases the incredible struggles of women who have paved the way for others."
To mark this year’s IWD, we are doing just that, and sharing the stories of Jane, Janet, Desiree and Deidré – four incredible women who are leading the fight against meningitis. Although these women are separated by thousands of miles, they all have one thing in common: they have dedicated their lives to raising awareness of meningitis, campaigning for better access to tests or vaccines, and supporting others who have been touched by meningitis.
Jane Plumb – Chief Executive and Founder of Group B Strep Support (GBSS), UK
I hesitate to describe myself as incredible but I am absolutely fighting against meningitis! I’m the founder and Chief Executive of UK charity Group B Strep Support, which I set up after my middle son, Theo, died at 17 hours old from a GBS infection in 1996.
Group B Strep (GBS) is the leading cause of meningitis in babies under 3 months of age, and of severe infection in newborn babies. The impact on families can be life-long.
At the MRF Conference in November 2017, I presented the results from a survey of 930 parents/carers of babies who developed early-onset (age 0-6 days) GBS infection. The effects on the families were significant, even when babies survived with no long-term health problems, impacting family dynamics, mental health and finances.
In February 2018, I attended an international GBS conference (ISSAD) in Cape Town. ISSAD brought together 242 delegates from 37 different countries to listen to world leaders in GBS share ideas on how to eradicate GBS infection. I co-chaired a session on advocacy for prevention strategies against group B Strep, presenting with Prof Carol Baker on advocacy by health professionals and patients and, especially, how vital it is that these go hand in hand.
Janet Munro – Founder, President and Chairperson of MeningitisBC.org, Canada
My name is Janet Munro, and I am the Founder, President and Chairperson of MeningitisBC.org, which has been based in Kitimat, British Columbia, Canada since 2012. As with many other organizations within CoMO, we created MeningitisBC.org after losing our precious 23-year old son Bradley, to the Y-strain of meningitis on November 4, 2011.
MeningitisBC.org has been very successful in creating awareness and education about meningitis and the vaccines that help prevent meningitis. For example, at our Meningitis Vaccine Clinic Campaigns in our local Northern BC Schools, we have been “hosting” and managing vaccine clinics.
In April 2016, MeningitisBC.org was successful in getting the MCV4 vaccine implemented in our BC Public Immunization Program. Unfortunately, it was targeted for Grade 9 students only, with no catch-up program, and the Government removed the Men-C vaccine for Grade 6 students. This is an area of great concern, and now that I am retired from Rio Tinto as of 1 Jan. 2017, after a 37-year career working in their Human Resource Department; I can dedicate my time and undying passion and attention to MeningitisBC.org.
Desiree Schofield – Meningitis Centre Australia, Australia
After her son contracted meningococcal disease at 5 1/2 months old, Desiree made the grim discovery that his pain and suffering could have been prevented through immunisation. Sadly, no one within the medical community had discussed with her the availability of meningococcal vaccines that could have protected her child.
Motivated to provide parents with this potentially lifesaving information, Desiree began working with the Meningitis Centre Australia to raise awareness of the availability and importance of vaccination and campaign for free meningococcal vaccines to be accessible to every Australian family.
Desiree was one of the faces of the “Eliminating Meningococcal is as easy as A,B,C,W,Y” campaign, which lead to the addition of the Meningococcal ACWY vaccine to the National Immunisation Program for children from 12 months of age. This was the first meningococcal vaccine to be added onto the program in 15 years, replacing the previous single strain Meningococcal C vaccine. Local government also funded a Meningococcal ACWY immunisation programme aimed at 15-19 year olds.
“Even though Robbie contracted Meningococcal B, we fought not only for this but also for the Meningococcal ACWY vaccine. Meningococcal is meningococcal, no matter what strain you contract, and the effects are horrendous. I want to provide parents with the knowledge, choice and chance I never had. These vaccines exist, as does the choice to vaccinate against meningococcal and the chance to protect their children and themselves from this vaccine preventable disease”.
Desiree continues her work with the Meningitis Centre Australia and hopes that the Meningococcal B vaccine will be added to the Australian National Immunisation Program.
Deidré Fredericks – Founder of Meningitis Association South Africa (MASA), South Africa
I died the day my 3 year daughter died of meningococcal meningitis in 2010.
Chelsea started vomiting the Wednesday afternoon, but later that evening, it seemed that she was getting better. The vomiting started again in the early hours of Thursday morning and she also had a severe fever. We rushed her to the emergency room. At 18:00 that evening the doctor pronounced her brain-dead and on the morning of Friday 11 June, she passed away. Her last words to me were “are we going home?”.
Never had I thought that after just a few days, we would lay her to rest.
Meningitis has become my life. After realising that there was no patient group, support, or information about meningitis available here, I founded the Meningitis Association of South Africa (MASA). MASA’s mission is to create awareness of meningitis amongst the public and health care professionals in order to prevent death and disability from the disease. MASA also provides grief and bereavement counselling, financial assistance and support services to individuals affected by meningitis.
A highlight for MASA was getting World Meningitis Day on our National Health Calendar in 2016. That year, over 20 local schools participated in the awareness-raising event - this included over 20,000 students! I currently run the organisation part-time but I hope that in the near future, I will be able to do more and run our awareness programs on a full time basis. No parent should go through this pain.
These incredible women, and many others from all over the world, stand together every day to reduce the impact and incidence of meningitis; and today, on IWD, we ask you to stand with us and celebrate their fantastic achievements.
Becky works at CoMO's Head Office in the UK and provides communications, event and administrative support. She studied Philosophy at the University of Sussex and has a Masters in Human Rights. Becky has a background in international development and has worked for a variety of charitable organisations throughout her career.