Measles & Rubella Initiative founding partner, the American Red Cross recently supported the Kenya Red Cross with community outreach to ensure as many children were protected against measles during a recent campaign. The Kenya Red Cross used social media to reach its extensive audience and SMS text messaging to ensure that information on the campaign was widely disseminated. Social media expert, Munir Ahmed, explains how and why they’re using technology to reach as many Kenyan families as possible in this interview.
Devaki Poudel, Red Cross volunteer, stands in front of the Nuwakot district chapter office following social mobilization training on the upcoming measles and rubella campaign in Nepal.
By Niki Clark, IFRC
Twenty five people sit around a long, rectangular table in the Nuwakot District Office of the Nepal Red Cross Society. They scribble into their notebooks as fiercely as the fans whir above. Deependra Shrestha, the Red Cross Branch health focal point for Nuwakot, stands in front of them, preparing them for the upcoming measles and rubella campaign they will be taking out into their communities.
In total, 435 volunteers from the 14 most earthquake-affected districts are participating in a nationwide campaign aimed at vaccinating nearly 600,000 children up to 5 years old against measles and rubella. As Shrestha explains, following humanitarian emergencies such as the 25 April earthquake, preventative public health interventions are as critical as relief distributions. In many cases, they can help prevent secondary disasters such as disease outbreaks.
Devaki Poudel is one such volunteer. At 35 years old, she has been a single mother since her husband died 13 years ago. Her house was severely damaged in the quake and she received blankets and shelter materials from the Red Cross. She’s seen more loss in her life than many.
“I wanted to be educated,” she said. “I have a voice; I wanted to be a singer. But I got married at 15 and had to leave school after Grade 8.”
When her children were very small, they both got measles, making a tough situation even harder.
“They were both so sickly, and I remember they both wanted to sleep with me, so I had to sleep in the middle of the bed. I got up at midnight one time, because I was scared and wanted to turn on the light,” she said. “I felt particularly down, and was wondering why I was even alive. Then I turned around and the light was shining on my children’s faces. I realized I needed to be alive for them. I want them to be educated. It is because of them I have been able to be strong, even after the earthquake.”
Devaki’s children recovered fully from the illness. But before widespread vaccination campaigns, measles caused millions of complications and deaths worldwide. Rubella during pregnancy can cause miscarriage or other problems.
Having seen firsthand the pain measles can cause, she volunteered to help as soon she found out about the campaign, joining the hundreds of others that will be distributing information, organizing school rallies and communicating about the campaign. The campaign brings together several partners, including the Ministry of Health, World Health Organization and the Nepal Red Cross Society, and will run for nearly a month.
“I don’t want children to suffer like mine did; to miss all their activities,” Devaki said. “And I don’t want single mothers to suffer like I did. This is why I am so happy the Red Cross has given me this chance.”
Over the next week, Malawi will immunize more than 2.5 million kids against measles. The American Red Cross’s Niki Clark is there, and writes about why Red Cross volunteers are so motivated to make sure every child is reached.
In the beginning of 2010, a horrific measles outbreak struck Malawi, starting in Blantyre and Zomba in the south and spreading to Mzimba and Nkhata Bay to the north. By mid-July, every district in Malawi had reported cases, and by the time the disease was contained, at least 134,000 people had been infected with measles. Of those, 300 people, mostly children, had died.
A little more than three years later and I find myself in Blantyre, as the Measles & Rubella Initiative and other partners gear up to launch a national vaccination campaign across all 28 districts in Malawi. Many people I speak to vividly remember the outbreak of 2010.
Ethel Chisale, 26, was one of those who suffered, along with six other members in her community, two of them pregnant woman. Ethel got very ill, and describes the outbreak as traumatizing. Fortunately nobody in her community died, but that frightening outbreak now gives her personal insight as a Red Cross volunteer.As a volunteer, she goes from home to home telling families about the upcoming measles campaign, using her own story to emphasize the importance of vaccines. “I am motivated to prevent others from experiencing the same thing I did,” Ethel says. “As much as I suffered, I am convinced it is entirely preventable, so I am actively involved.”
In Mchingi district, Ethel tells Marita Positain, 42—whose two children, Letira, 5, and Proffesor, 1 are eligible for the vaccine —about her story and convinces her to have them vaccinated. “I have suffered,” Chisale says. “I volunteer because I don’t want others to have to go through the same thing. I am a living testimony to the importance of vaccines.”
Ethel Chisale is just one of more than 100 Malawi Red Cross Society volunteers that are supporting social mobilization efforts in six districts through house to house canvassing. Each volunteer is tasked with reaching 100 households to share information about the campaign and the importance of being vaccinated while answering questions and providing details about where the vaccination posts are located.
Red Cross volunteer Oscar Kalwayo, 30, who also trains other volunteers on house to house efforts, says they use whatever means necessary to spread the word. “Megaphones, flyers in local churches, anything to connect with the community. We want leaders to use their positions to let people know about the vaccinations.”
For the Malawi campaign, deworming tablets, Vitamin A and polio vaccines will also be distributed, quadrupling the life saving benefits. Other M&RI partners including the Lions Club and UNICEF help social mobilization efforts through advertisements in local radio and posters around communities.
Ruthie Msatero, 26, has been volunteering with the Malawi Red Cross Society since 2009 and remembers the 2010 outbreak well. She says she keeps volunteering because she just wants to help people. “I choose to be a Red Cross volunteer with my whole heart and am happy to help my fellow Malawians.”
Niki Clark is a communicator for the American Red Cross. In addition to telling the story of the international work the Red Cross does around the globe, Niki focuses on the Measles & Rubella Initiative, of which the American Red Cross is a founding partner.