Typhoid fever: Toronto kids and parents toil for immunisation push

Canada city turned to volunteers from The Children’s Workshop to demonstrate deadly typhoid-causing bacteria to kids

Anemic kids and somnolent parents clutching their kids are simply not enough to convince Toronto to vaccinate its young children against a deadly disease.

“I don’t do too many pushbacks on this,” said Andy Rab of The Children’s Workshop. “But when it comes to typhoid, nobody’s going to let me talk them into it.”

In the last two weeks the charity has come to Toronto, normally known as an easy mark for politicans and special interests. Children, teenagers and parents stood in line to take part in what Rab described as “the biggest typhoid vaccination event ever”.

“We can’t have some of these kids get sick, and they have no one to blame but themselves,” said Rab.

Children and adults take a vaccine to protect against typhoid fever at the charity’s event. Photograph: Robert Thompson/The Guardian

Typhoid is a potentially deadly disease caused by having contact with contaminated food or water. It can be prevented with vaccines, as Rab did in the mid-1990s.

“I was training to be a veterinary surgeon, and I was studying typhoid,” said Rab. He learned that when he was first infected he still had typhoid but no fever. By showing him how to look for it, he got Rab to suffer a painful and protracted long-term infection. The two acts of trust spoke volumes.

More recently Rab has gone back to school. But as a political activist he is also a trained community organiser and the co-founder of the permanent goodwill program. The Children’s Workshop is a small for-profit charity with deep pockets, large pockets and a big mission.

With no paid staff, volunteers came from as far away as Vermont, California and New Jersey to take part in the Toronto typhoid vaccination blitz. The group of volunteers showed kids how to spot a typhoid fever-infected person and administered a simple vaccine that had been developed with the people of India as a way to detect and then treat the infection.

The programme Rab founded has seen him push governments to vaccinate children against malaria, Ebola and flu. He’s almost as well known for his faith in herbal medicines and alternative medicines for diseases as a cross-section of his local community offers testimony on his work.

Typhoid fever, a potentially deadly disease, at the charity’s event. Photograph: Robert Thompson/The Guardian

At the Toronto event, kids, their parents and adults stood in long lines to receive the vaccine. The filming of the event was part of a public television documentary. “We’re giving away over 500,000 vaccines in Toronto by the end of the year,” said Rab.

The vaccinations went on to such massive demand that some VIPs had to be offered the vaccine in place of children.

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