Community volunteers take the vaccination message into Nepal’s earthquake-affected areas

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.”

NPR News Interviews Steve Cochi on the Rise of Measles Cases in the U.S.

As measles cases linked to Disneyland continue to rise, it’s important to pause and take stock of how this American situation is linked to global measles activity. While measles is a rarity in the United States, more than 144,00 people, mostly children and infants died from the disease in 2013. Many of the measles cases in California have the same measles virus strain as the one currently circulating in the Philippines since Typhoon Haiyan.

Read more on this from NPR, featuring Steve Cochi, Sr. Advisor, Global Immunization Division at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and also a senior management team member with the Measles & Rubella Initiative.

Click Here To Read More

For Those Traveling to or from Current Measles Outbreak Areas

The measles vaccination is known to be 95% effective in creating lifelong immunity in recipients. A second dose is recommended to provide immunity to the 5% who do not develop it with the first dose.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a founding partner of the Measles & Rubella Initiative, has a number of helpful resources for those traveling both to and from regions experiencing  measles outbreaks areas, and information on immunity conferred post-measles vaccination. Speaking with your primary care doctor immediately is always a good idea if you have any concerns or have been possibly exposed to the measles virus.


Myanmar Launches Its Largest Ever Vaccination Campaign, Reaching 17 Million Children

Photo courtesy of Measles & Rubella Initiative

19th January 2015, Nay Pyi Taw: The National Measles and Rubella (MR) vaccination campaign launched today in Nay Pyi Taw is the country’s largest ever public health intervention, aiming to reach more than 17 million children aged nine months to 15 years.

The campaign will cover nearly 65,000 villages and 45,000 schools through 12,000 vaccination teams and over two-phases (19 to 27 January and 19 to 28 February).

“Measles and Rubella remain a threat to the survival and development of children and women in Myanmar”, stated WHO Myanmar Representative, Jorge Mario Luna. WHO estimates also suggest that the highest Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS) burden globally is in South East Asia. “Investing in this combined vaccine will help accelerate national, regional and global progress in controlling this life-threatening disease”.

Over the past years, Myanmar has also experienced sporadic measles outbreaks especially in the hard-to-reach and conflict-affected areas such as Rakhine, Kachin, Shan and Chin states, due to the increased number of unprotected children.

“The campaign will protect children from debilitating and killer diseases that are easily preventable”, asserted UNICEF Representative to Myanmar, Bertrand Bainvel. “By joining forces in the nationwide campaign to reach all children in Myanmar regardless of their race, religion, or geographical location, government, non-state actors and civil society commit to put children above all other considerations and sources of division. They show it is possible to unite, and children are the catalysts”, he added.

Myanmar has committed to eliminate measles diseases and to control congenital rubella syndrome by the year 2020. As a result, the measles and rubella vaccines will become part of the Myanmar’s routine immunization strategy from May 2015 onwards, which before only included measles vaccines.

The MR immunization campaign is part of Myanmar’s commitment to the Measles & Rubella Initiative, a global partnership to ensure that children are protected against measles and are not born with disabilities resulting from congenital rubella syndrome (CRS). The Initiative is led by UNICEF, WHO, United Nations Foundation, American Red Cross, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For more information, please contact:

Mariana Palavra, Communications Specialist, Advocacy, Partnerships and Communication Section, UNICEF Myanmar,

Dr Vinod Bura, Medical Officer- Immunization, WHO Myanmar

Disneyland Outbreak Lesson: Vaccinations Prevent Measles

News of the measles outbreak at California’s Disneyland and information about vaccinations are making headlines this week, but the Measles & Rubella Initiative (M&RI) has been focused on the virus—and its elimination—for nearly a decade and a half. In that time, M&RI has vaccinated 1.1 billion children in some 80 countries, helping to raise measles vaccination coverage to 84% globally, and reduced measles deaths by 71%.

Even though measles was eliminated from the United States in 2000, outbreaks can occur when unvaccinated travelers pick up the measles abroad, importing the virus as an unwelcome, and often unknown, souvenir. Last year’s outbreaks in Ohio, Washington state, New York, San Diego and Nebraska have all been linked back to unvaccinated Americans that had recently visited measles hotspots abroad.

Those hotspots are exactly the type of places where M&RI is working the hardest. Founding partner the American Red Cross serves a unique role in these efforts, supporting the critical task of house-to-house canvassing before, during and after vaccination campaigns in order to reach the 95% coverage rate needed for a campaign to be successful. At just $1 to vaccinate a child, the measles vaccine is one of the most cost effective interventions in global health. And while health advances have been impressive, outbreaks like the one in California—now confirmed at 51 cases—have clearly demonstrated that the work of M&RI is far from over.

Measles is a highly contagious virus, spread by contact with an infected person through coughing and sneezing. When one person has measles, 90% of people they come into close contact with will become infected, if they are not already immune through vaccination or previous contraction.

Symptoms include a high fever, severe skin rash and cough and can result in secondary health problems such as pneumonia, blindness or even death. Before the formation of M&RI, more than 562,000 children died worldwide from measles complications each year, some 1,539 every day, mostly children under five years of age. While there have been great improvements, today an estimated 122,000 children—approximately 330 per day—still die from measles-related complications every year. This number is even more tragic when considering the mere $1 vaccination costs.

This fall, the M&RI teamed up with the American Academy of Pediatrics to launch “Ivy + Bean versus The Measles.” The campaign features the immensely popular characters from the Ivy + Bean children’s book series and promotes measles immunization as a simple, safe and effective measure.

The images, illustrated by Sophie Blackall, are being used in a series of materials designed for clinics and pediatric offices throughout the United States and are meant to open the dialogue with parents and children on measles vaccinations in a non-threatening way. It’s the latest partnership with Blackall whose previous work was inspired after a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo with M&RI. And with more domestic outbreaks surely in the future, it’s a conversation America’s families need to have.