A new report from UNICEF and the World Health Organization highlights that millions of children around the world are at risk for measles, one of the most contagious and severe childhood diseases that takes the lives of hundreds of children globally each day. Last year alone, 21.9 million children missed the routine measles vaccination in their first year of life and 13.3 million did not receive their second dose, placing children in under-vaccinated communities at risk of outbreaks.
Since 2001, the American Red Cross and partners have been working globally to eliminate these diseases through the Measles & Rubella Partnership (M&RP). Our partners include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United Nations Foundation, UNICEF, and the World Health Organization. The aim is to vaccinate children across the globe and erase these devastating diseases.
Since 2001, the M&RP has supported vaccination of more than three billion children against measles in over 88 countries, reducing global measles deaths by 83%.
“The American Red Cross plays a key role in the M&RP by working with Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies around the world to mobilize respected and trusted local volunteers in the most marginalized communities to encourage vaccination against measles and rubella,” said Dr. Mary Agocs, Director, M&RP programs at the American Red Cross.
PANDEMIC HAMPERED VACCINATION EFFORTS
During the COVID-19 pandemic, routine vaccination efforts slowed, and large measles outbreaks increased worldwide. Within the past three years, the world has lost an estimated 30 years of progress in the fight against vaccine-preventable diseases and every region of the world is experiencing an increase in outbreaks of diseases such as measles and rubella. The Red Cross and health organizations around the globe are focusing on finding and vaccinating children who have missed routine vaccinations because of disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
RED CROSS ROLE The American Red Cross plays a global role in vaccination campaigns for the Measles & Rubella Partnership (M&RP). Through relationships with Red Cross and Red Crescent national societies, local volunteers are mobilized and trained to conduct house-to-house visits with their neighbors, providing caregivers with information on vaccination campaigns and encouraging them to vaccinate their children. These volunteers use mass media, rallies, door-to-door visits and entertainment to spread the word about the importance of getting vaccinated. They also ensure caregivers and kids get to health centers to obtain vaccines.
Recently the American Red Cross, Kenyan and Zambia Red Cross societies sponsored a program ─ ‘the 5-Point Plan’ ─ in which teams visited parents in both rural villages and urban settlements to find pockets of children missing routine immunizations such as the measles vaccine. Some teams had to walk 40 minutes just to reach one house, while others rode bicycles and motorbikes down dusty, bumpy roads to locate kids in need. The program, done in conjunction with the Kenyan and Zambian Ministries of Health, gathered the most up-to-date statistics to understand where and why some kids aren't getting vaccinated.
New mom Rose Phiri was one of the people taking part in the Zambian program. She is doing everything she can to make sure her son, Daniel, grows up healthy and that includes making sure he gets his routine immunizations on time. Rose’s mom is an advocate for vaccines and hopes that Daniel will grow up to be a doctor. He’s got a long way to go until that dream comes true, but in the meantime, his mother and grandmother are making sure he has the healthcare he needs to grow up safe and healthy.
Catherine Mawelela also participated in the program in Zambia. “It’s a relief to know my kids are vaccinated – I don’t need to worry so much,” she said. Malelela had given birth to her daughter, Gertrude, just 7 weeks prior. As the infant received some of her routine immunizations, her mom said it was hard to see her cry, but the lifesaving vaccinations are worth it.
“When we see the Red Cross, we see lifesavers,” said Funwell Muka, a grandfather and farmer living in rural Zambia. Funwell is the cherished patriarch whose extended family gets together on Sundays to shell nuts, play and talk. He’s a strong advocate for vaccines to protect kids against diseases such as measles and polio and has taken his grandchildren to the clinic on foot to get their shots. Funwell just got a motorcycle, a first for the family, and he's proud that it will expedite the family's trip to the health center and market.
Here in the U.S., Red Cross nurses provide community education and educate legislators about the M&RP. 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 U.S. government support.
How You Can Help It costs about $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. Please consider making a donation today to support this important effort. Learn more about this important effort here.