Red Cross Volunteers Mobilise Malawi

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.

Red Cross volunteers are motivated to stop measles because they know how deadly the disease can be.

Red Cross volunteers are motivated to stop measles because they know how deadly the disease can be.

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.”


Ethel explained why and where Marita could have her kids vaccinated against measles.

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.

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Red Cross volunteers Richard and Chrissy with children who will be vaccinated because of their mobilisation efforts.

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.

CDC issues rubella travel alerts for Japan and Poland

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued travel alerts for Japan and Poland following the increased number of reported rubella cases in both countries. The Level 2 alert cautions travelers to practice enhanced precaution, giving important information especially to susceptible pregnant women.

As of May 29, 2013, over 8,500 laboratory-confirmed rubella cases have been reported in Japan during 2013. And in Poland, more than 26,000 cases of rubella have been reported since the beginning of 2013.

CDC recommends that all travelers to Japan and Poland protect themselves from rubella by being up-to-date on their rubella vaccine. Pregnant women who are not protected against rubella either through vaccination or previous rubella infection should avoid traveling to Japan and Poland during this outbreak.  This is especially important during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. When rubella infection occurs during early pregnancy serious consequences—such as miscarriages, stillbirths, and severe birth defects in infants (Congenital rubella syndrome, CRS) can result. As many as 85 of 100 babies born to mothers who had rubella in the first 3 months of her pregnancy will have a birth defect. 

Measles, rubella and CRS are completely preventable through immunization with two safe, effective vaccines, which can be combined into one inexpensive measles-rubella or “MR” vaccine. The Measles & Rubella Initiative is supporting countries and regions to achieve measles and rubella control and elimination goals.

To read the alert in full please see here.

Democratic Republic of Congo

The DR Congo topped the measles outbreak list in 2011 with more than 134,000 recorded cases (possibly a fraction of actual cases) In 2012, the country recorded almost 74,000 measles cases. By mid-2013, it had 54,000 cases and almost 800 recorded deaths.  With support from GAVI and the M&RI, the country is now planning a phased measles campaign to begin in September and reach four provinces this year, and should finish by July 2014.

WHO warns of increased risk of disease epidemics in Syria and neighbouring countries

Over the past two years, Syria’s health system has been severely disrupted. New cases of measles have reappeared due to a drop in national vaccination coverage.

In the first quarter of 2013, the number of laboratory-confirmed measles cases in Syria reached 139, compared to zero cases in 2010 and 2011. National campaigns to vaccinate children have been hindered due to accessibility and security issues, resulting in high numbers of unvaccinated children in inaccessible areas. With thousands of Syrians crossing the borders each day, measles cases have been reported among displaced Syrians in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey.

With thousands of Syrians crossing the borders each day, diseases that are prevalent inside Syria are being transmitted to neighbouring countries. Measles, tuberculosis and cutaneous leishmaniasis have been reported among displaced Syrians in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. “Jordan had previously reported zero cases of measles for 3 years, and was planning to officially declare that it was measles-free. The situation will deteriorate if prevention and control measures are not scaled up soon,” said Dr Jaouad Mahjour, Director of the Department for Communicable Diseases at WHO’s Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean.


For the full story, see here.