How many more of our kids have to die?

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Press Release: National Meningitis Trust of NZ

"How many more of our kids have to die from a preventable disease?"

"We desperately need your help now."

Fionn Marshall succumbed to the rapid silent killer pneumococcal disease at just 20 months of age. Even though his mother Margaret had a nursing background and access to the best child health experts at Starship Children's Health in Auckland, it was not enough to save Fionn.

Another child, Israel Baker, from Christchurch, lived up to the meaning of his name and "wrestled with God" to fight pneumococcal meningitis. Now just one year old, Israel has had six months without a seizure, however, although optimistic about his future, Israel's parents are still scarred by the trauma of his hospital fight against the disease.

And Elly Studer, from the Waikato, survived, but can only hear thanks to more than $100,000 worth of surgery and equipment, $50,000 of which was funded by her parents who must carry the on-going financial burden of a hearing-disabled child.

When the three families of these children join forces with other families to march on Parliament this week (Wednesday 18 October 2006) they will have a clear message for politicians - "don't let what happened to us happen to anyone else".

As part of a campaign by the Meningitis Trust, the families are demanding the pneumococcal vaccine be introduced onto the free immunisation schedule for 2008.

"People just aren't aware of this silent killer and how rapidly it works," Margaret Marshall, Fionn's mother, says. "It's an opportunistic bug and it kills very quickly. There are no warning signs. And the reality is, at least another four or five babies will die in the next year. That's not acceptable."

Pneumococcal infections are a leading cause of meningitis, bacteraemia, pneumonia and bacterial otitis media [middle ear infection].

The Meningitis Trust organised a march to Parliament in July and will stage a second rally, on Wednesday, to keep the significance of this disease, which kills or maims about 500 New Zealanders every year, at the forefront of politicians' consciousness as they make decisions on the 2008 free immunisation schedule.

"We have had support from families throughout New Zealand that feel strongly that this is the only way forward to combat such a deadly infection in our children," says Fiona Colbert, General Manager of the Meningitis Trust.

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 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 have free access to the vaccine.

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