Kate Elder, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Geneva
More than 3.5 million lives have been saved between 2000 to 2007 as a result of accelerated measles vaccination activities, according to a new report released by the Measles Initiative.
The Measles Initiative programme, which was founded in 2001, is a partnership of the American Red Cross, the United Nations Foundation, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF and the World Health Organization with a goal of reducing measles deaths around the world. The number of lives saved is equal to a reduction in global measles deaths by 74 per cent - from an estimated 750,000 deaths in 2000 to 197,000 in 2007.
The success of the Measles Initiative is due in large part to the hard work and dedication of volunteers from National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. These volunteers fan out across communities – taking boats, motorcycles or even walking for days if necessary – to reach families in the most remote locations and educate them about the importance of these vaccinations.
In 2008 alone, 13 Red Cross Red Crescent societies mobilized more than 15,000 volunteers for measles campaigns. Examples include the mobilization of 2,800 volunteers in Tanzania, 920 volunteers in Nepal, 300 volunteers in Georgia, and approximately 1,500 volunteers for a campaign in Nigeria that aims to vaccinate more than 25 million children nationwide. The role of volunteers after the conclusion of campaigns is just as important: as active community members, volunteers continue to remind people to go for routine vaccination.
“With the American Red Cross as a founding member of the Measles Initiative, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is proud to support this successful public health model by ensuring that all campaigns include the tireless work of community-based volunteers,” said Dominique Praplan, head of the International Federation’s health and care department in Geneva.
“With our involvement in the initiative originating in Africa, we are now focused on sharing the experiences of African National Societies with those in other regions so that we can sustain our contribution until the 2010 goal of 90 per cent global measles mortality reduction is achieved.”
Reaching the goal
Already several regions have reached or come close to that goal. The eastern Mediterranean region, which includes Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Sudan, has reduced measles deaths by 90 per cent, reaching the United Nations global goal three years early.
The Africa region has reduced measles deaths by 89 per cent, between 2000 and 2007. This is a slight reduction from the previous year because gaps in immunization coverage led to measles outbreaks in several African countries.
“The situation in Africa reinforces the importance of sustaining our progress through continued support of immunizations,” says David Meltzer, Senior Vice President of International Services for the American Red Cross. “A vaccine alone isn’t enough - it does no good if it sits in a laboratory or health centre. It can only save lives if we get it to the children who need it.”
600 million children vaccinated
Since 2001, the Measles Initiative has supported the vaccination of more than 600 million children in more than 60 countries. Using the immunization platform to deliver other life-saving interventions, partners have also delivered more than 31 million insecticide-treated bed nets for malaria prevention, 49 million doses of de-worming medicine, and 126 million doses of vitamin A.
The International Federation supports vaccination activities through its Global Measles and Polio Initiative which provides flexible funding for National Societies to be partners in large scale campaigns, and contribute to the gains made in child survival by reducing vaccine-preventable disease.