Michael Hardy 0000-00-00 00:00:00
When Snehlata Shrestha heard that local Lions Club members were helping organize a measles vaccination clinic in her village in Nepal, she immediately signed her son up to be vaccinated. Not all of her neighbors were so willing. They remembered a recent health campaign that included a treatment for an infectious disease after which some of the children who received vaccinations had adverse reactions. Rightly or wrongly, Shresha said, the people in her village attributed the complications to low-quality medicine. But when she heard that the Lions were involved, Shrestha knew the measles rubella vaccine would be safe. “I was looking for some reliable and recognized organization or company handling such activities,” she said. “Then I heard that the Lions club was supporting a measles rubella camp for the children. It was good news for all the mothers like me. I took my son to the nearby school where the camp was. I have also encouraged my neighbors to get the vaccination for their children.” Shrestha’s son was just one of an astonishing 1.8 million children to receive vaccines in the first phase of the Nepal government’s measles and rubella campaign, which was made possible in part by a $5 million challenge grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Since being founded in 2001, The Measles and Rubella Initiative has delivered more than 1 billion vaccinations worldwide against measles. Although originally focused on Africa, the initiative has recently spread to countries around the world. In Nepal, the program was co-organized by the Lions Clubs International Foundation, the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and the Nepalese government. The first phase of the campaign, which ran from February 14 to March 28, targeted 15 of Nepal’s poorest districts, mostly located in the underdeveloped western part of the country. Shrestha knew how important the measles and rubella vaccine was because of the many people she had seen who had been disfigured or even disabled by these “terrible diseases.” Worldwide, measles is one of the leading causes of death among young children, even though a cheap, effective vaccine is widely available. According to WHO, in 2010 more than 139,000 children died from measles alone (about 15 deaths every hour), mostly in low-income countries. Fortunately, the Measles and Rubella Initiative has helped reduce these deaths by a remarkable 74 percent since 2000. Despite its wide availability, however, 10 million Nepalese children still haven’t received the vaccine. These are the people targeted by the Nepalese government and partners, which uses comprehensive marketing and data collection to try to ensure that every child in every village gets vaccinated during the campaign. Reasons vary for why so many children don’t get vaccinated. Some remote Nepalese villages lack access to a medical clinic, and some parents are frightened by rumors of unsafe or untested drugs. To overcome these difficulties, the Lions helped organize a massive media blitz to promote the measles rubella campaign. Invitations to receive the vaccine were mailed to every household in the targeted districts. Television and radio commercials starring Nepalese celebrities spread awareness of the campaign. Vans with loudspeakers drove through villages and towns, announcing the dates of the campaign. At a widely publicized event inaugurating the campaign, representatives from Lions Clubs, WHO and UNICEF spoke. Nepal’s Secretary of Health noted that there were more Lions at the event—150 members from 14 local clubs, all in yellow vests and hats with the Lions logo—than representatives from any other organization. With 11,500 members, the Lions are easily Nepal’s largest service club organization. About 1,000 Lions from 45 clubs volunteered in the first phase of the campaign. Throughout Nepal, Lions have become the public face of the measles and rubella campaign. Even after the ubiquitous social mobilization work, some Nepalese people still resisted allowing their children to be vaccinated. Sanjay Khetan, Lions’ country coordinator for the Nepal Measles and Rubella Initiative, cited cultural barriers to the campaign’s goal of 100 percent immunization. “We had the most problems in the urban areas, especially with certain ethnic communities, such as the Muslim community,” Khetan said. “The Muslim community is a bit conservative, and the local mullahs have a lot of power over them, so we cooperated with the mullahs and set up our clinics in mosques and masjids.” Rumors spread in some Nepalese villages that U.S. drug companies were testing a new drug in Nepal. To quash the rumor, the Lions brought in local doctors to tell community leaders that the vaccine used by the government in the campaign was the same measles–rubella vaccine given in their clinics. “So slowly they got convinced,” Khetan said. “We covered the same areas once, twice and even three times, and we finally made our vaccination targets.” Lions monitored the turnout at vaccinations sites. When the turnout was less than expected, they carried out additional social mobilization work. Thanks to this kind of persistence, the first phase actually achieved a 103 percent vaccination rate, which was possible because local populations have grown since the last census. Because their involvement was crucial to the Measles and Rubella Initiative’s success in Nepal, the Nepalese government has asked the Lions to help support all of the country’s vaccination campaigns. “The government told us, ‘We cannot motivate and mobilize the people to get the vaccine. But you can because you are the leaders in your communities. You come from civil society, and you can motivate people,’” Khetan said. The second phase of the campaign had been scheduled to start soon after the completion of the first phase. However, Nepal’s Department of Health has been unable to procure enough vaccines, so the campaign has been put on temporary hiatus. Khetan said that as soon as the drugs are available, the campaign will resume its efforts to vaccinate another 8 million Nepalese children. The entire campaign will cost about $10.8 million, according to William Schluter, a WHO medical officer in the Nepal Country office. “This campaign demonstrates the best of what can go right when there is an effective working relationship between the government, U.N. organizations, NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and civil society,” Schluter said. “Each partner had a role and each contributed to the success that was achieved during the first phase of the campaign. On behalf of the children of Nepal, I would like to express my very sincere gratitude to Lions Clubs International Foundation for choosing to support the campaign in Nepal.” Perhaps no individual has been more critical to the campaign’s success in Nepal than Sanjay Khetan, who has been directing the Lions’ involvement in the measles rubella campaign for the last six months. Khetan said that being asked by LCIF to lead the Nepalese Lions involvement was “the opportunity of a lifetime.” Khetan recalls meeting with Maha Jodi, a famous comedian in Nepal who agreed to appear in advertisements promoting the Measles and Rubella Initiative. “When I met Jodi, he asked me if I had ever had measles in my life,” Khetan said. “I said that I was fortunate and never had it. He told me that because he came from a small village he was never vaccinated, and suffered greatly from the disease. That’s why this campaign is so important. Ten million children in my country will now be spared these diseases.” The View From Nepal Dr. William Schluter WHO Nepal medical officer This is the first time that the rubella vaccine has ever been used in Nepal. The importance of rubella is that when a mother is infected during the first trimester of pregnancy, she can develop what’s called congenital rubella syndrome. And so the baby will be born with blindness or deafness, congenital heart abnormalities or mental retardation and sometimes dies. If we can vaccinate mothers against rubella during this campaign, then we can prevent all of those children from being born with those devastating birth defects. So if I could pass one message to the Lions it’s that we need your support. No matter where in the world you are, no matter what your vocation or your occupation is, even if you can’t be here on the ground administering vaccinations, we can definitely use any financial support that you can give to Lions. Hanaa Singer UNICEF representative in Nepal The world can be safe only when all the children in the world or at least over 90 percent of the children in the world are vaccinated. This is where we can kill the virus. So long as the virus is alive it can reach anywhere, anywhere where a child has not been vaccinated. So it’s really by vaccinating the children in Nepal and in other parts of the world you really protecting yourself. You’re really protecting your own child in your own country, in your own constituency. There is this campaign called One Thousand Days. The first 1,000 days, from conception to two years old, is what really develops and marks a child for the rest of his life. If you take care of a child, by the right immunization, the right nutrition and the right healthy environment, you can increase the GDP of a country by 80 percent. Can you imagine—just by these 1,000 days. So of course it is very critical that we take care of the children during this time. And we know if you really take care of them during this phase you know that you make their life so much better. And once you make their life so much better you make the lives of the country so much better by a really minimum investment. It is so much better to invest now with this minimum investment rather than later when you have to invest in a hospital to cure them from diseases that could have been prevented much earlier on. Organizations like the Lions in Nepal—you have something like 11,000 members. It’s magnificent. They really have the ears and heart of the population here. So they can work not only on a national level but they can also be on a village level. They really can encourage parents and caregivers, and go door-to-door to encourage mothers to go to immunization. So I think they are absolutely a critical partner there.
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://digital.lionmagazine.org/article/Trust+in+Lions+Spurs+Measles+Campaign/1116633/118591/article.html.