In 1862, a book published by Jean Henri Duhant, titled Un Souvenir de Solferino, ended with this plea…
“Would it not be possible to found and organize in all civilized countries permanent societies of volunteers who in time of war would give help to the wounded without regard to their nationality?”
This idea won favorable response and on October 18, 1863, delegates form sixteen nations and several charitable organizations met in Geneva to discuss Duhant’s idea. This conference laid the groundwork for the Red Cross movement. It took the United States 18 years to recognize this Red Cross movement. Eventually they did though, and since then the Red Cross has grown and expanded upon its services. In today’s world the Red Cross provides many services such as Disaster, Biomedical, Heath and Safety Training, Community, Armed Forces Emergency, and International services.
Today I want to focus on the Measles Initiative program that the American Red Cross has played a very dramatic role in. The Measles Initiative is a long-term commitment to control Measles deaths in Africa by vaccinating 200 million children through both mass and follow up campaigns in up to 36 Sub-Saharan African countries.
To better understand the program one should have a full understanding of the disease Measles. Measles is a disease that attacks the body, inside and out. Usually a child does not directly die form Measles but from the complications which attack their already weak immune systems in the days following. The reason that measles is such a life threatening disease in Africa is mostly because of the poor living conditions and lack of health care. In America the typical red spots on the surface of the skin usually signals a mild case of measles, the same rash in Africa becomes a severe attack on the child’s skin surfaces, gut, cornea, and lungs. Measles can cause high fever, peeling of skin, blindness, diarrhea, malnutrition, brain damage, and pneumonia. Measles is just one more attack on bodies that are already unhealthy like those of the African children.
Measles is one of the most highly contagious diseases known, and it is carried through the air. A child can contract measles and not have any symptoms anywhere from seven to ten day. In an area where nearly everyone has not been vaccinated this statistic has a catastrophic effects. In Africa they live in cramped areas, many times sharing a bed with a brother or sister. In this case the disease can be passed on throughout the living quarters, in which the last person to become exposed would contract the most severe case of the disease because of the high doses of measles that were in their surroundings. Therefore in Africa this disease is the number one death in children. Mostly because they are victims of circumstance, circumstance being defined as being born into poverty, being born into poor living conditions, and being born into a place that lacks health care.
Through the American Red Cross these children have been given a light. These children fear measles like an American child fears the boogieman. They envision it as some kind of monster, but in their world this monster is not make believe. Instead of singing nursery rhymes or the latest N’Sync songs these children sing songs of measles. Like the lyrics you will find below:
The lyrics to this song, simplified and without repeating the chorus over and over, go like this..
I am measles, Killer disease.
Take your child for Immunization
November 17 , November 18, November 2001
Take the shot for immunization
From the age of 5 months to the age of 5years
Our parents work hard
Take your child for immunization
Take your child for Immunization
As they sing this song, a child dressed in a red monster suit, represents measles. I find it really sad to hear and see these child’s fears through a song that should be representing their childhoods, but unfortunately in reality these songs are representing these children’s childhoods. In Africa, Measles is referred to as Akwap, which means disease of the wind, and is associated with an African saying, “The second child with Measles always dies” You can understand this saying and fear once reviewing the statistics. 1200 children die everyday of Measles in Africa. 51 children die every hour, and nearly every minute once child will die of Measles. These statistics are hoped to be completely eliminated through the Measles Initiative, because even though it is the single leading cause of children’s death in Africa, it is also the single leading vaccine preventable disease.
Therefore this mission intends to completely eradicate the disease altogether. For the cost of one American dollar, one child can be vaccinated, one child will be given a chance. This cost of one dollar includes all costs of the vaccine, syringes, health worker pay, logistics, and community mobilization. This is the most cost effective public health intervention available. Along with the actual vaccine each child is given a Vitamin A pill which aids in the development of health skin, hair, bones, and helps to boost the immune system in just one week. For most of the children this was the first form of medicine ever taken. The children are vaccinated from a couple months up to 15 years old, putting emphasis on infants to the age of five years old.
Currently the program’s focus is on Africa. In 2001, 21 million children were vaccinated, preventing an estimated 47,000 deaths. In the second year they hope to support 9 more countries and vaccinate around 44 million children and prevent an additional amount of 51,000 deaths. This will help them to obtain their long-term plan, and by 2005, to eradicate Measles. This will be of benefit worldwide because people from all parts of the world have different reasons for not getting vaccinated. Some examples are the most obvious which is Africa, and this is because of poverty and lack of health care, in other parts of Africa beliefs stand in the way. A tribe by the name of the Tologelse people believes that when a child is infected with measles that the West African God of Disease for purification and blessing is visiting him or her.
Beliefs and poverty are not the only reason for not getting vaccinated; a surprising example for some might be Cleveland Ohio. While measles has been nearly eliminated in the United States, should a child from another country that was exposed to Measles come to Cleveland, where immunizations of measles is at a low rate, could allow Measles to spread very quickly amongst the preschool population and cause quite an outbreak. People of America do not believe Measles to be a problem anymore so they avoid getting their children the immunization, and consequently put them at risk.
So not only has the United States been a given and compassionate neighbor, but while doing it has educated Americans not only to get the vaccination, but also to be a good neighbor themselves and donate a dollar to protect others from this disease.
It also has inspired me to take the initiative.. While I was researching I found a place where I was able to make a donation. Now being the stereotypical poor college student that I am, I could not make an enormous donation, but I could make one. I was able to give ten dollars, and with my ten dollars, ten children will be given a chance to live, something that I quite often take for granted. When I was just three years old I actually had measles, and luckily because of my circumstances, such as living conditions and health care, I could afford to beat the disease. I had my chance to live spread out on a silver platter, some people such as these African children are not lucky enough to be given those things in life that many of us take for granted.
So if you can, please take some time and think back on what I said. These children are afraid of Measles like it is a monster, their nursery rhymes are tales of where to get vaccinated, and some are not even given a name until they have had measles. One dollar that you would usually spend on the toll road to get to college could provide one child with a life, a future to look forward to.
Donations can be made at the Red cross website.