I was given a major reality check about two months ago when our close neighbor and relative became sick with coughing fits that no one was able to diagnose. For a whole month, he would get these crazy coughing fits which racked his whole body, left him blue in the face, and after which he would faint for a good 30 seconds, numerous times a day.
Doctors told him it was an allergic reaction to his blood pressure medicine, so he stopped taking it. Others told him that he wasn't taking a breath during the coughs and that led to his fainting, so he tried to take a breath. They told him to get his blood sugar levels checked (he's diabetic), but they were okay. It wasn't until his nine month old granddaughter (my baby's playmate) caught the cough that an auntie doctor diagnosed it- whooping cough, better known in the world of diseases with an immunization as: pertussis.
My husband's cousin/neighbor called us to warn us as soon as he found out what his daughter had. He told us that it was better for those who had been exposed to take an antibiotic. I freaked. We went online to read up more on this disease.
At the time, my daughter was getting over a cold, with a lingering cough. Our online research freaked me out more, because many of the early symptoms of whooping cough are the same as those of the common cold, notably a light cough which turns into these crazy coughing fits, where one can hardly take their breath- potentially fatal for young babies.
In the US, people have the luxury of debating whether or not to immunize their children (growing debate on ill effects of immunizations), but having given birth to my daughter in the States, and knowing I was heading to Baghdad, I realized that I would probably be safer immunizing her. Truthfully, the need to immunize her never really settled in until this incident woke me up.
Part of the reason I was so freaked out when I heard about our neighbors' illness is that I haven't kept my baby fullly up-to-date on her immunization schedule. She got two rounds of DTaP/DTP shots (diptheria-tetanus-pertussis), both outside of Iraq (one set in the States and the other on a famiy trip to Egypt). I have yet to give her the third set (planning on doing it this summer in the States, inshaAllah).
I have been very hesitant about getting her immunized here, for two main reasons. One, part of the debate in the States over immunizations is that the older forms (pre-1990's) had mercury in them- affecting baby's health, possibly linked to higher autism levels in children. In developing countries, these older versions of the shots are still being used. I do not want to give my daughter sub-level medicine.
The second reason for my hesitancy is the issue of electricity. Yes, the never-ending topic of electricity- but it does really affect so many aspects of life. Immunizations must stay at very specific, cold temperatures to preserve their efficacy. In Baghdad, I am highly doubtful that strict measures are held to preserve such temperatures; not out of neglect, but out of inability. Hospitals which administer these shots usually have large generators that they keep on when electricity goes off, but, doubtless, there are times when these generators must be turned off; for repair, rest, etc. In fact, I live close enough to a private hospital to hear their generator. Electricity is off now, and their generator is not running (though they do turn it on much of the time).
In the end, I am thankful and lucky that my baby did not catch this highly contagious disease. I never thought that I would come in such close contact with one of those 'old' diseases that you read/hear about, but think have almost been wiped out. I had always thought that if I kept Suma away from public gatherings here, she would be safe. I now know that that is not the case.
On a side note, my cousin-in-law was telling me that immunizations here are the responsibility of the UN, and should thus be newer versions and well maintained. I really have no idea, so if anyone out there has a clue, please share.
UPDATE: I just read the following blog entry about children who have died following 'polio vaccines' that are given door-to-door here in Iraq (as well as in many developing countries). How much of these deaths are the result of intentional poisoning or of vaccines which have 'gone bad', I do not know. I do know that an American friend of mine who moved to Egypt was warned by her pediatrician not to let her children get vaccinated this way. Doubtless, it helps in cases were children from poor families can't get to doctors. But here in Iraq, it has proven fatal.