Mike Pflanz 2014-03-12 16:50:32
In Botswana, Lions stage shows, transport families by bus and even fund cellphone airtime to promote immunizations against measles–all part of Lions’ vast international campaign against the disease. When Leganne Matlho’s eldest son fell sick at the age of 10 with a high temperature and “sores all over his body,” his mother did not at first realize how serious the situation could become. She had heard of measles–children in her town in northern Botswana had died from it in the past. But for a day or two she waited before taking Titoga to a clinic, where doctors prescribed immediate treatment and told her that she had been lucky he had not deteriorated faster. “I was so frightened that some illness he can catch without me knowing could have caused him to be blind, or even to die, very quickly,” Matlho says, sitting in the shade in her swept yard where tomatoes, kale and lettuce grow in neat lines in the sandy soil. “It was only after that I came to realize that there is a protection against this disease in the form of an injection, something Titoga did not get. Since that day that my son was sick, all of my children have been vaccinated.” Piwane, Matlho’s 15-month-old daughter, was the latest to be given the shot, at a health center here in Selebi- Phikwe, a mining town set in flat land in Botswana’s east, 250 miles north of the capital, Gaborone. She was one of close to 200,000 children aged between 9 months and 5 years immunized during a five-day nationwide campaign in November in which Botswana’s Lions played a key role. Today, measles has been almost eliminated in developed countries but the virus still kills 330 people a day in other parts of the world, equivalent to one every four minutes. Most are children yet to reach their fifth birthday. This is despite a highly effective, safe and inexpensive vaccine, which has helped cut the number of measles deaths globally by 78 percent between 2000 and 2012, according to the World Health Organization. Through the One Shot, One Life: Lions Measles Initiative, Lions worldwide are increasingly central to international efforts to ensure that the vaccine now reaches as many of those children still not inoculated as possible. With partners including the GAVI Alliance, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, Lions have already helped to immunize 20 million children. Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) has committed to raising $30 million for vaccinations by 2017, a sum that partners will match, effectively meaning the initiative will have covered the costs of vaccine shots for 114 million more children. The GAVI-Lions Clubs partnership focuses on support of routine immunization and strengthening health systems to help prevent serious outbreaks of disease. By 2020, more than 700 million children in 49 countries are expected to be immunized against measles and rubella thanks to the GAVI Alliance and its partners including Lions. One of the most recent national immunization campaigns was held in Botswana in southern Africa, a country of 2 million people spread over largely flat territory between South Africa, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. At the beginning of November, Botswana’s Lions helped the country’s Ministry of Health with a five-day campaign to reach at least 95 percent of children under 5 with measles vaccinations, Vitamin A supplements and deworming pills. As with all Lions’ activities, help came not only in the form of charitable donations. In the weeks before the campaign, and all the way through it, Lions across the country pitched in with their time. LCIF helped fund 3,500 bright orange hats for campaign volunteers, 10,000 posters and 100,000 information flyers to be given out in schools and clinics, training workshops, and ID badges for those helping out on the actual vaccination days. Across the country, Lions helped to hire public address systems, truck trailers and even arrange motorcades of vehicles to take messages about the looming immunization drive directly to the people. Lions handled even the smallest details. Cellphone airtime for health officials working on the campaign enabling them to talk directly with the health ministry in Gaborone was funded thanks to arrangements made by Lions. In Selebi-Phikwe, two teams of Lions including Leo Obakeng Kanthaga went from house to house knocking on doors–including Matlho’s–reminding families they should take their children to be immunized. “We Lions are known for coming around with a PA system and discussing health messages,” Kanthaga says. “We wanted to go one step further and actually speak one-on-one with mothers on their doorsteps to make sure they understood the importance of the vaccinations.” Lions took creative measures to get the word out. In nearby Francistown, 275 miles north of Gaborone, Lion Dilip Nunes, president of one of the town’s four Lions clubs, and Lions Prem Madhoo and Jen Madhoo helped arrange short drama performances from the back of a truck to explain vaccinations to passers-by at the city's main bus and taxi hub. Dozens of Lions volunteered to hand out flyers and answer questions. Despite early difficulties with official permissions for some activities, Nunes says the buildup ahead of the vaccinations went well. “There were dozens of people who saw the theater shows and asked questions, and I’m sure then told their friends all about the immunization campaign,” he says. “The point was to get the message out, and I think we did that the best we could.” To the west, in Maun, the gateway city to Botswana’s famed Kalahari Desert and its wildlife-filled Okavango Delta, Lions invited community elders for lunch to ask them to urge their people to bring their children for immunizations. In Tonota in Botswana’s east, Lions helped pay for a bus to bring families from remote areas to the village so that they did not miss the chance to be vaccinated. In Kanye, set amid bush-covered hills south of the capital, Lion Peter Mayondi and Past District Governor (PDG) Tekemanangathe Ramkumar led volunteers who formed a convoy of more than 20 cars and pickups draped in banners that toured the town publicizing the message of the campaign. “There were horses ahead, then the cars, all their lights on, honking their horns,” Mayondi remembers, smiling. “I know that personally when there was a measles vaccination campaign some years ago, I knew nothing about it. This time, there was no way anyone who saw that motorcade could say they did not know about this campaign.” Josephine Mosimanewakgosi, head of the Kanye district health team, agrees. With her nursing colleagues Kelebogile Wapitso and Matron Rachel Tsebekgale, she was in charge of the campaign in the town. “The Lions really came in at the right time,” she says. “We were getting the message out, but I think that the way the Lions helped us we reached even more people, which means even more children vaccinated.” That was a message repeated by senior figures in Botswana’s Ministry of Health. Ndibo Monyatsi, chief health officer of the child health division, points to the provision of free cellphone airtime as a key contributor to the success of the campaign nationally. “It may not seem so significant, but it was a real problem the last time we had a similar health campaign for staff in the field not to be able to communicate in real time with us at headquarters,” she says. For Dr. H. B. Jibril, Botswana’s acting director of public health, the increase in Lions clubs’ memberships meant that they were able to reach people all across the country in a way that, he says, “few other organizations can.” This is a crucial point. Botswana already has a successful routine immunization program for its children, and the majority will be vaccinated at clinics during normal health checkups. November’s campaign was a"catch-all" vaccination to be sure as many children as possible were included and to provide a second dose to better ensure lifelong protection. The contributions of Lions were needed because some towns are remote, or roads are poor or flooded for long stretches of the year. Some religions with growing congregations prefer children not to be given modern medicine. These “hard-to-reach” communities need specific approaches to ensure that their children are immunized. Lions worked with priests, for example, to make the procedure acceptable. Shenaaz El Halabii, the deputy permanent secretary at the Ministry of Health, says simply: “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” to the Lions. “The team here was absolutely great,” she says. “They really took ownership of mobilizing people for the campaign, and as a government with resource limitations, the extra mile that we were able to go with the vaccinations was really a lot to do with the Lions Clubs.” There were challenges, says PDG James D. Honold, LCIF coordinator for District 412, who everyone involved with the measles campaign credits as the driving force keeping up momentum to ensure success. “What we have learned is that we as Lions Clubs should be involved from the very beginning of any campaign in the future, and that we would really focus on coordinating the various people involved,” he says. “There were a few ideas we had which we were just not able to put into practice because they were perhaps a little ambitious for this first campaign. We’ll be sure to be trying them next time, though.” Back in Selebi-Phikwe, Matlho’s daughter, Piwane, played at her mother’s feet as she continued to talk of how her son almost died of measles those years ago. “Nowadays people do not know how dangerous the illness can be, because no one has seen it for so long,” she says. “I am one of the few, and I make sure that I tell everyone I see that they need to vaccinate their children. “It is something easy to do, but it can mean the difference between life and death.” Digital LION Watch a video on LCIF Chairperson Wayne Madden’s visit to a clinic in Ethiopia doing immunizations at www.lionmagazine.org Also learn more about how Lions have been curtailing measles: • Putting the Hurt on Measles (March 2013 LION) • Trust in Lions Spurs Measles Campaign (July/August 2012) • One Shot, One Life Saved: Measles Initiative Saves a Child for $1 (January 2012)
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