<b>LCIF to Fight Measles with Gates Foundation</b> Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) is working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support the Measles Initiative to protect children from measles and increase routine immunizations. Four African countries have been chosen for a special Lions-Measles Initiative pilot program, funded jointly by LCIF and the Gates Foundation. “Lions have always been committed to saving sight at all levels in communities,” said Eberhard J. Wirfs, LCIF chairperson. “I have seen firsthand the devastating effects of measles and other diseases, and Lions will play a prominent role in fighting this disease and preventing childhood blindness.” According to the World Health Organization (WHO), measles is a highly contagious viral disease transmitted via droplets from the nose, mouth and throat of infected persons. Although vaccinations are readily available in developed countries, the disease remains a heavy public health burden in developing countries. The disease can be prevented altogether through vaccination. It is also a major cause of preventable blindness, particularly among children, affecting the same underserved populations. There are an estimated 30 million to 40 million cases of measles each year, resulting in nearly 750,000 deaths. During 2001-2008, global measles mortality declined by 78 percent, from an estimated 733,000 deaths in 2000 to 164,000 in 2008, yet the reduction in measles mortality has been leveling off since 2007. “We are coming to this area to accelerate the vaccination program to reach more people and stop measles from coming back again and again,” said Lion Dr. Tebebe Berhan, project chairperson in Ethiopia. The Measles Initiative is a long-term partnership among world leaders in public health that aims to globally reduce the number of deaths from measles. UNICEF, WHO, the American Red Cross, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the United Nations Foundation are among the organizations supporting these efforts. To support the Lions-Measles Initiative pilot program, the Gates Foundation awarded a $400,000 grant to LCIF, and LCIF will contribute an additional $300,000. “Mali by itself cannot face this problem because it’s not only a Mali problem. This is why partnership is very important. The more people we have, the better it is for us,” said Lion Mama Tapo, project chairperson in Mali. Lions will focus on three main areas: advocacy at the local, regional and national levels; direct involvement in social marketing and vaccination activities; and financial support. Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mali and Nigeria will host the first four pilot programs. These countries have been identified by WHO and UNICEF as priority countries given the high rate of measles and the need for increased vaccinations and overall strategy to decrease the rate of deaths. Lions’ leadership teams in the four pilot countries will coordinate program implementation and documentation of activities through the beginning of 2011. “Lions have been known for playing a role in the eradication of preventable blindness in Nigeria, all over Africa and the whole world,” said International Director H.O.B. Lawal, project chairperson in Nigeria. “Now Lions are coming with this Measles initiative. I feel very, very proud to be part of this moment.”
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