Measles Initiative Saving African Children
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“Measles Initiative Saving African Children,” Ensign, Dec. 2005, 68–69

Measles Initiative Saving African Children

A study published in the Lancet, an international medical journal, in September 2005, credits high-quality measles immunization campaigns such as the Measles Initiative, in which the Church is participating, for having reduced measles cases by 91 percent in 19 African nations from 2000 to 2003. This prevented an estimated 90,000 deaths in 2003 alone.

“One of the clearest messages from this study is that with the right strategies, a strong partnership of committed organizations, and the investment of sufficient resources, you can rapidly reduce child deaths in Africa,” said Dr. Mac Otten, medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and lead author of the study. “A big reason for this success is the support from the Measles Initiative.”

The Measles Initiative is a five-year program created in 2001 by the American Red Cross, the United Nations Foundation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Health Organization, and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The goal of these organizations was to control measles deaths in Africa by vaccinating 200 million children in 36 African countries by the year 2006, preventing an estimated 1.2 million deaths.

Having worked with the Church before on disaster relief, the Red Cross approached the Church to support the initiative in 2002. After Harold Brown, managing director of Church Welfare Services, observed the Measles Initiative at work in Zambia in June 2003, the Church pledged U.S. $3 million to the effort over the remaining three years of the initiative.

“We were analyzing our major initiatives and felt the Measles Initiative was a good fit and a way for us to make a real difference,” said Brother Brown. “There is really no way to convey what it is like to see the Measles Initiative at work. It’s a logistics miracle, the way they can vaccinate millions of children in only a few days.”

Measles-related deaths worldwide have plummeted 39 percent, from 873,000 in 1999 to an estimated 530,000 in 2003, according to the American Red Cross. The largest reduction occurred in Africa, the region of the world most affected by the disease; estimated measles deaths decreased by nearly half. Before the Measles Initiative, the disease killed nearly half a million children each year in Africa.

At the end of 2004, more than 150 million children in more than 30 countries had been vaccinated at a cost of less than $1 per child. In 2005, the initiative’s partners planned to vaccinate more than 45 million additional children, exceeding their original goals. (See accompanying article on Bonnie D. Parkin.)

“The Church has once again illustrated its significant commitment to ending suffering on a worldwide basis,” said Marsha J. Evans, American Red Cross President and CEO, upon receiving the Church’s pledge. “We cannot express our enormous gratitude.”