CoMO Conference 2011: The human face of meningitis

by Michael Redfearn, Waterloo, Ontario Canada

As the Confederation of Meningitis Organizations (CoMO) Paris Conference 2011 got underway on Oct. 1st, one thing was unmistakably clear, sharing stories of loved ones indiscriminately cut down by meningitis never gets any easier.

For some, like Deidre Fredericks of South Africa, the profound loss of her 3 year-old daughter Chelsea to meningitis only a short year ago, is all too vivid, “The day after my 3 year old daughter died it was the World Cup in Soccer in South Africa. Everyone was so happy, but it was the saddest day of our lives.”

Tania Wolfgramm, a mother of 3 children from New Zealand and a meningitis survivor, is proof that meningitis can strike quickly and at any age. “I was feeling fine, healthy, happy then woke up one day with severe low back pain that eventually radiated to my abdomen. I went down hill very quickly. Lesions soon appeared on my legs. I could not walk for months, and had to learn how to walk again.”

Jamie Schanbaum and Ashley Langoulant are inspirational meningitis survivors.

Professor Lulu Bravo of the Philippines drove home to conference delegates that it’s the human face of meningitis that is extremely critical and important in educating and motivating doctors around the world to advocate for meningitis awareness and prevention. Bravo stated that “Our stories will move policy makers to take action, more so than statistics and figures from medical conferences.”

Dr. Eric Tayag of the Philippines will never forget the shock and disbelief of the parent whose 12 year old daughter died on Christmas Eve from meningitis. They were left wondering why, when others around the world were exchanging gifts, they had just experienced the most devastating loss of their lives.

The common threads interwoven around the CoMO table of delegates representing 18 countries around the globe – how lethal meningitis is, how quickly it can kill and maim and how the most effective way to stop it from ever occurring is through preventable vaccines.

Conference Programme topics included: advocacy, member services, communications and marketing, fundraising, global meningitis update, global and regional updates, policy makers and the media and social media and its use in advocacy

CoMO President Bruce Langoulant of Perth, Australia, applauded all the delegates for their dedication and commitment to uniting in a common cause as regional and global advocates for meningitis awareness and prevention.

Langoulant noted the significant challenges going forward: expanding CoMO’s capacity (currently 20% of the  countries of the world are CoMO members), fostering regional networks, while maintaining a dynamic, relevant and responsive “globally united and regionally enabled” organization.

One thing is certain though, the collective energy, spirit and determination of the 2011 CoMO conference participants has renewed and spawned new friendships and re-ignited a common purpose and resolve. To ultimately ensure that no one else will ever have to endure the loss and pain of a loved one to a mainly preventable disease.

Photo: by Michael Redfearn

Related links:

CoMO – Confederation of Meningitis Organizations

The Jamie Group

Meningitis Research Foundation of Canada

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