As countries around the world recognize World Immunization Week April 22-28, the Indian Red Cross—with the financial support of the American Red Cross—is making its own significant impact on measles eradication and reducing avoidable child deaths.
Over the past few weeks, nearly 80,000 children have been vaccinated against measles in Lucknow, the capital city of Uttar Pradesh, India. It is the third phase of a four phase campaign that aims to reach up to two million people, and ensure that 350,000 children are vaccinated against measles across 20 districts. The Red Cross plays a key role in ensuring many parents bring their children for vaccination.
One third of the world’s children who have not received the three standard vaccinations—diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus—live in India. Measles alone causes an estimated 50,000-100,000 child deaths in India each year. In recent years, there have been substantially increased efforts to turn this situation around but poor understanding of immunization and fears about vaccine safety has often hampered success.
Since leaving out a single child in a vaccination campaign can put the whole population at risk, the Red Cross has stepped in to explain the benefits of immunization against measles and encourage families to bring their children to the vaccination centers. Many parents are grateful that the Red Cross, an organization they trust, can explain to them what immunization means for their child.
“Every culture has its own perspective on health. We explain to them the facts; what the causes of measles are, and how immunization keeps their child healthy,” said Sunita, a volunteer involved in the program in Lucknow.
Red Cross volunteers, most of whom are young students, employ a number of activities to reach their neighbors, including as door-to-door visits and street theatre performances. They engage communities in a dialogue about the importance of vaccination and try to achieve as close to 100 percent coverage as possible.
Sauravh Agnihotri, district campaign coordinator for Lucknow gave an example of one woman from the Aminabad area of the city. “She did not know how this simple injection could keep her child healthy. Without the Red Cross interaction, she may not have brought her child to the vaccination center at all.”