Migration & Measles Prevention

Story by Carmela Burke, American Red Cross Volunteer, Los Angeles, California

Migrants’ stories and photos appear above the newspaper fold line.  Images dominate traditional and social media which draw attention to their harrowing journeys through Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.

Rand Corporation analyst Shelly Culbertson cites a staggering statistic from the United Nations Refugee Agency, (UNHCR): “60 million people have been displaced due to war, conflict and persecution—the highest level of displacement in the history of the world.”

In light of current events, the terms “migrant” and “refugee” are used interchangeably referring to people who flee war, conflict and/or persecution.

The American Red Cross continues to work with the global Red Cross and Red Crescent network to meet the needs of the world’s most vulnerable populations, including children.  In the past four years, we have spent and committed more than $2.5 million on relief efforts in Syria and its neighboring countries affected by conflict such as Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.  As the crisis continues, the American Red Cross is providing information management and mapping support to the global operation to ensure that Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are not responding independently of each other, but rather, have greater situational awareness of the broader crisis. The American Red Cross also provided 10,000 cots to help families in Germany. For more information on the Red Cross response, please click here.

For millions of children, experiencing this level of trauma at such a young age causes developmental consequences.  For a family trying to land on their feet in a new environment, access to adequate education, accommodations, and health care are priorities.  Where do they start?

A joint report from WHO-UNHCR-UNICEF reveals that those most at risk for vaccine-preventable diseases are young children, and that “refugees and migrants be vaccinated against these diseases as a priority in line with national vaccination schedules.”

Help Locally to Protect Children Globally

Launched in 2001, the Measles & Rubella Partnership is a global health partnership led by the American Red Cross, the United Nations Foundation, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF and the World Health Organization. The Initiative provides technical and financial support to governments and communities for mass vaccination campaigns and disease surveillance around the world.

As travel between countries—during peacetime or wartime—becomes more frequent, it is even more imperative that we immunize our children against vaccine preventable diseases.  “While some countries have been successful in eliminating certain diseases within their borders, as long as these diseases continue to thrive elsewhere, they are still vulnerable to outbreaks due to risk of importation from other countries,” according to James Noe of the Measles & Rubella Partnership at the American Red Cross.

Using measles as an example, in the United States through a strong vaccination program the disease was eliminated in 2000 with no endemic cases seen since then.  However cases of measles and subsequent outbreaks have been reported regularly within the country with at least 7 recorded outbreaks since 2013.  Through laboratory confirmation and observation, the genotypes of these viruses have been linked to outbreaks in other countries which have travelled across borders, said Noe.  “With a virus as contagious as measles, which has a 90% transmission rate, it is incredibly important to continue to vaccinate children here and abroad to effectively protect them from this deadly disease.”

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