Now, I realise that subject line may, at first, sound a little aggressive, but I want to share with you what happened with our son, Thomas, a few years ago in the light of the current debates circulating around Covid-19. In late 2016, Tom was diagnosed with Hib, despite having all his childhood immunisations. The Ministry of Health states on their website: “Hib was once the most common cause of life-threatening bacterial infection in children under 5 years old. Before the vaccine, 1 in every 350 children had the disease before they were 5 years old.”
We were shocked when Tom was diagnosed, and Leila at only 6 months of age also quickly succumbed to the illness. Hib most commonly leads to meningitis or epiglottis (an infection and swelling in the throat that blocks the breathing passages). They’re both life threatening diseases. As parents, this is quite possibly one of the most scary illnesses we‘ve had to tackle. Luckily, as both our children had been immunised (although Leila only partially) and they were diagnosed fast we were lucky that they recovered, although they were both incredibly unwell for a period.
At the time, when discussing with our GP about how it had been contracted, she told us that he likely caught it from our kindy where there must have been an unimmunised child carrying the disease. She also shared with us that she knew our kindy used a cloth towel (rather than paper towels) and that she often had children from our kindy getting sick unnecessarily.
We agreed with out GP, Tom had no exposure outside of kindy, and our kindy (at the time) had a one-hundred-year-old policy for each child to wash their hands and then dry them on a towel. Our GP believed the use of the same towels were the cause for the disease spreading. While each child was encouraged to bring their own towel, these were only swapped out quarterly (or not at all) with many children just using the towel hung closest to the bathroom.
I just want to make this clear – we love our kindy, It’s one of Remuera’s institutions. It’s quite possibly not just one of the best kindys in New Zealand, but one of the best in the world. The level of love and care our teachers have for our children is second-to-none and the environment was built based on a strong sense of children’s well-being and belonging.
As a concerned parent, I immediately emailed those parents I knew at the kindy, to advise them of what had happened to our children and to look out for symptoms. I also asked for their support to move the kindy to paper towels and take further high-sanitary measures at the premises, including Dettol and more appropriate handwashing practices being promoted to the kids.
Every single parent responded with great care for our children and concern for their wellbeing – supporting the view to move to paper towels. But, one parent came back to me outraged, while I’ve since deleted the email she told me, “I had no right to change practices that had been in place for 100 years and that if I didn’t like it, I should simply pull my child out of kindy” She made it very clear that she didn’t support my view to improve practice and had no interest in the wellbeing or safety of our child (or arguably her own for that matter). I was shocked at her response and in tears that evening as I deleted her message.
With the support of other parents, a simply fantastic kindy manager and a proactive board, we met to discuss our concerns. The kindy – only receiving limited funding – couldn’t afford to improve hand practices to the degree we were requesting (e.g. the cost of installing better dispensers and the upkeep of paper towels), regularly wash carpets or employ a commercial cleaner. James and I offered to immediately make a significant cash donation to the kindy to remove the financial barriers.
The following week, our kindy went out with communication to all parents promoting the improved practices. Six months later, our GP told me that she was seeing far less children from our kindy being treated from illnesses relating to poor handwashing practices.
In the light of what we’re seeing with Covid-19, excellent handwashing practices are being promoted as one of the most critical ways to prevent the spread of the illness.
To each person that echoes that particular mother’s feeling; that we don’t have a collective and collaborative responsibility to care for those most at risk in our community – that’s an incredibly selfish, un-community-minded attitude. Simple steps can save lives and prevent our healthcare system being overloaded. Be smart, wash your hands, practice social distancing and avoid big crowds. Simply, caring for each other should be our social responsibility, not a choice!