The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed work to prevent measles outbreaks around the world at a time when the global number of measles cases is at its highest in 24 years. This makes efforts by the American Red Cross as a partner in the international Measles & Rubella Initiative (M&RI) more important than ever.
According to a recent press release from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), measles cases worldwide increased to 869,770 in 2019, the highest number reported since 1996. Measles deaths climbed nearly 50 percent since 2016, claiming an estimated 207,500 lives across the globe in 2019 alone.
The coronavirus pandemic and efforts to fight the virus have disrupted vaccinations and efforts to prevent measles outbreaks. More than 94 million people were at risk of missing vaccines due to paused measles campaigns in 26 countries, many of which are experiencing ongoing outbreaks
Measles is one of the most contagious and severe childhood diseases. Every day, it takes the lives of hundreds of children around the world. Even if a child survives, measles can cause permanent disabilities such as blindness or brain damage. The risk is high in developing countries where there is limited access to health care and people are underfed.
In 2000, measles was a leading cause of vaccine-preventable death among children, at the time taking the lives of an estimated 536,000 people each year - the vast majority of them under the age of five. Since 2001, M&RI efforts have seen more than 2.9 billion children in more than 88 countries around the world vaccinated to protect them from measles and rubella.
WHAT IS THE MEASLES & RUBELLA INITIATIVE?
The Measles and Rubella Initiative is a global partnership to achieve a world without measles and rubella. The effort is led by the American Red Cross, the United Nations Foundation, the CDC, UNICEF, WHO and global immunization partners like Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others. Watch this video for more information.
The M&RI helps countries raise coverage of measles, rubella and other vaccines, fund, plan and implement campaigns, investigate outbreaks and provide support for effective outbreak response, devise solutions on how to boost immunization delivery and support a global laboratory network for measles and rubella.
The Red Cross plays a pivotal role in M&RI vaccination campaigns worldwide. Local Red Cross volunteers are key in mobilizing millions of families, many from remote villages, to participate in vaccination campaigns. They use mass media, rallies, door-to-door visits and educational entertainment to reach families who do not have access to routine health services. Whether in distant villages or urban settlements, these campaigns may be the only way for children to receive this lifesaving vaccine. Learn more here and here.
Here in the United States, Red Cross nurses provide community education and educate legislators about the Measles and Rubella Initiative (M&RI). Over the past three years Red Cross nurses have been invaluable in reaching out to key members of Congress to raise awareness of the continued global disease burden due to measles and rubella and advocate for continued support for M&RI through the U.S. Government. Over that time more than 50 Nurse Advocate volunteers have been trained and conducted visits with 28 Congressional offices. These nurses have helped to secure $150 million toward measles and rubella elimination programs through our key M&RI partner, the US CDC.
This supports the recent call to action from Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on health services and in particular immunization services, worldwide. But unlike with COVID, we have the tools and knowledge to stop diseases such as measles. What we need are the resources and commitments to put these tools and knowledge into action. If we do that, children’s lives will be saved.”
“We are concerned that COVID-19 will contribute to an increase in the number of measles cases and deaths,” said Gail McGovern, president and CEO of the American Red Cross. “Measles knows no borders, and it is imperative we work together to vaccinate more children and continue the fight against this preventable disease. “Around the globe, Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers help families in chronically unvaccinated communities to protect their children. Join us in this effort.”
HOW YOU CAN HELP It only costs $2 to vaccinate a child. To join the global flight, text PREVENT to 90999 to give $10 to the Red Cross and help us vaccinate children against measles. With just $10 you can save the lives of 5 children.