Lions Clubs: an insider perspective on their fight against measles

Just over two years ago, the Lions Clubs International Foundation became an active partner in the fight against measles – to mobilize communities, advocate for leadership and raise funds. Their tireless work has been crucial in ensuring that measles vaccines reach families who need them most.

In October 2011, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation challenged Lions to raise US$10 million for measles. To help Lions in this effort, the Gates Foundation donated $1 for every $2 raised by the One Shot, One Life: Lions Measles Initiative. Lions’ outstanding dedication has now raised a collective total of US$15 million and is the largest single donation in Lions history.

We spoke with Ben Futranksy, with Lions Clubs International Foundation Humanitarian Programs, to gain insight into how this partnership came about and what it means for Lions going forward – as they help the Measles & Rubella Partnership and other partners to support the world-wide effort to protect children from measles and strengthen routine immunization services.

Lions Clubs: an insider perspective on their fight against measles1. M&R Initiative: Tell us how Lions first got involved in the fight against measles.

BF: In 2009, Lions Clubs International first learned of the Measles & Rubella Partnership and the fight against measles. It was clear that the M&R Initiative was saving lives through preventing the spread of measles, and that Lions could add to the successful partnership and help reduce the burden of measles even more. The Lions motto is “We Serve”, and Lions are dedicated to service to their communities. Working to reduce the burden of measles and eventually eliminate the disease is really a good fit for the Lions, since measles directly impacts many Lions’ communities.

Lions Clubs: an insider perspective on their fight against measles2. M&R Initiative: In 2010, the Lions helped to vaccinate more than 41 million children against measles in Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mali and Nigeria. What was the Lions role?

BF: Lions supported social mobilization and advocacy during measles campaigns in those countries. Lions participated in kick-off ceremonies and also hosted their own kick-off events, volunteered at vaccination centers, passed out hand bills with information on the measles campaign, and funded radio, television and print ads, billboards, town-criers, house-to house mobilizers, etc. to help raise awareness and increase turnout for the campaigns. In the area of advocacy, Lions met with government and community leaders to enlist their support for the campaign and reduce any potential vaccine resistance.

3. M&R Initiative: What are Lions doing to help improve routine immunization in the targeted countries?

BF: This year, Lions in Madagascar, Mali, and Ethiopia built on their experiences during their countries measles campaigns and carried out activities to raise awareness and build support for routine immunization. In Ethiopia, Lions carried out activities in conjunction with World Immunization Week. Focusing the activities in the Southern Nations and Nationalities Peoples Region, the same area they were active during the measles campaign, Lions hosted a kick-off event for World Immunization Week. They also funded media advertising to raise awareness among the community and met with local government and community leaders to discuss the importance of the routine immunization system in preventing measles and other disease outbreaks.

In Madagascar, Lions stressed the importance of routine immunization during the country’s mother and child health week. Lions participated in the national launch and also held many regional launches, which increased awareness among the population and were opportunities to meet with government and community leaders and enlist their support for measles and routine immunization. Lions also funded routine immunization awareness through various media channels and volunteered at health centers that offered vaccinations during the week.

In Mali, Lions had planned on carrying out similar activities across the country during World Immunization Week, but the political situation at the time prevented them. However, the Malian Lions were dedicated to carry out the activities and in September, once things stabilized, they partnered with the MOH to carry out a series of activities promoting routine immunization. Focusing in the main non-occupied cities of Bamako, Kayes, Koulikoro, Sikasso, Segou, and Mopti, the activities included broadcast “debate” discussions in each city with Lions and MOH staff about the importance of vaccination and measles prevention etc. (on national TV in Bamako and regional radio in the other cities), also Lions met with government officials and community leaders in all these cities to discuss the importance of routine immunization. Radio and TV ads, posters, t-shirts, and a youth soccer tournament titled “Kick Out Measles” also helped to raise awareness of routine immunization and its importance among Malians.

4. M&R Initiative: The One Shot, One Life: Lions Measles Initiative has just raised a total of US$15 million towards helping to eliminate measles – with the Gates Foundation’s US$5 million matching contribution. How do these types of matching grants help motivate Lions to get involved and help to raise the funds?

BF: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation challenge grant of US$5 million helped to motivate Lions to give toward the One Shot, One Life: Lions Measles Initiative campaign since they knew their donation’s impact would be multiplied and more people would be protected from measles.

Lions Clubs: an insider perspective on their fight against measles5. M&R Initiative: Three countries in particular contributed nearly US$6 million of the US$10 million raised – Taiwan, Japan and Korea. Why are Lions in these countries so motivated to raise funds for measles?

BF: At the outset, it was important for LCIF to educate the 1.35 million Lions members around the world about measles, our partnership in the M&RP, and the One Shot, One Life: Lions Measles Initiative. As Lions members learned more about the risk of measles, the burden of the disease in causing death and disability (including preventable blindness, a major area of focus for Lions) and how a person could be immunized for just $1, they responded with generous support. Lions in Taiwan, Japan, and Korea have historically been very generous donors to LCIF and the Foundation is one of the main recipients of their charitable giving. This year, the Chairperson of LCIF is the Immediate Past President of Lions Clubs International, Dr. Wing-Kun Tam. Chairperson Tam is from Hong Kong and he put a personal special emphasis in encouraging the Lions in his region to support One Shot, One Life: Lions Measles Initiative.

6. M&R Initiative: What’s next for Lions and measles?

BF: Lions Clubs International now has two years of experience in the fight against measles. Lions have been active supporting measles campaigns on the ground, worked to increase in-country support and demand for routine immunization, and done significant fundraising to make measles campaigns possible. Lions have gained a lot of experience and also seen the impact that their support in the fight against measles can make. Right now we are talking with our partners and membership to see how best to expand on the work that has already been done and increase the Lions impact in reducing the burden of measles and strengthening routine immunization.

Lions Clubs: an insider perspective on their fight against measles7. M&R Initiative: What advice would you give to other potential partners that are hearing about your accomplishments, and who want to join the fight in tackling measles?

BF: The case for joining the fight against measles is very compelling and the disease can be defeated. Getting involved at some level is not difficult and very rewarding. Lions members from around the world can speak to the rewards, whether it is hands-on in their country helping ensure that a measles campaign is successful and has the highest possible coverage and therefore protecting the absolute highest amount of children from the disease, or through donating to LCIF and knowing that for each $1 a child somewhere will receive a measles vaccination and be protected.

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