Mass vaccination in Uganda: Lions Clubs dedication to eliminating measles

Notes from the field: a guest blog by Benjamin Futransky

Lions, known worldwide for their dedication to preserving sight, have joined the Measles & Rubella Partnership in the effort to end measles. Benjamin Futransky, a Lions Clubs International Foundation staff member, recently traveled to Uganda while Lions Clubs members were actively involved in the country’s national measles campaign:

Ugandan Lions Clubs members approached May’s national measles campaign with much enthusiasm, truly embodying the Lions motto of “We Serve.” They saw the campaign not only as a chance to provide service to their community, but also as a way to protect children from this preventable and deadly disease.

The goal of the campaign was to immunize 6.9 million children against both measles and polio. Lions knew that a successful campaign could prevent a measles outbreak and might literally be the difference between life and death for Ugandan children. Measles cases had been increasing in the East African country, and the Ministry of Health had reported over 500 cases when the campaign began.

Lions worked to secure a high turnout for the campaign, while building community understanding of the importance of immunization in preventing diseases. In the long-term, Lions wanted this to translate into support and demand for routine immunization services.

Months before the campaign, Ugandan Lions worked with the Ministry of Health and other partners, such as the World Health Organization and UNICEF, to ensure coordination of the effort. Representatives from Uganda’s 20 Lions Clubs worked with the Ministry to determine how members could best contribute to social mobilization during the campaign.

Mass vaccination in Uganda: Lions Clubs dedication to eliminating measlesAs the campaign neared, Lions ordered T-shirts for health workers and posters and banners for vaccination posts. They also purchased radio, television and newspaper advertisements, using their contacts in the business community to obtain favorable rates. And, they contracted with town criers – trucks with loudspeakers that would drive through the streets announcing the measles campaign.

The three-day campaign began on a hot and sunny Saturday. Each club held a kick-off ceremony and invited local government, religious and traditional leaders, whose support would be needed to make the campaign a success — as well as to make the community healthier and save children’s lives year round through routine immunization. Following the launch, Lions spread out to the vaccination posts where they would assist health workers for the next three days (each club “adopted” one or two vaccination posts).

Wherever I traveled in Uganda, I was inspired by the Lions’ efforts. For example, about halfway on the drive to Masaka from the capital city of Kampala, we stopped at a vaccination post in a small town where some members of the Lions Club of Masaka were volunteering. Parents and children had gathered outside of the center, and Lions were helping to register children and do whatever else was asked of them to make the effort a success. When I drove past again hours later on my return journey, those same Lions were still there helping, and planned to dedicate their entire Sunday, too.

It was this “roll up the shirt sleeves and get to work” attitude that I found most inspiring. That Lions, many of whom are doctors, lawyers and successful business people, would put their professional and personal lives on hold for three days to focus on serving their community.

Mass vaccination in Uganda: Lions Clubs dedication to eliminating measlesI asked the Lions I encountered who had worked tirelessly in the heat for the entire weekend if their three days of volunteerism had been worth it. Was it worthwhile to spend your entire weekend outside in the heat, trying to get mothers to bring their children to be vaccinated and helping to be sure that things were in order at the vaccination posts?

The answer I heard over and over from each Lion was a resounding yes. The small part they played in immunizing each child filled them with joy because they knew one less child was at risk of sickness or even death from measles.

Through a challenge grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) will mobilize US$15 million to support measles campaigns through the Measles& Rubella Initiative. In addition, Lions Clubs members are helping to ensure vaccination campaigns are a success in their home countries.

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