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Measles initiative continues to fight disease in Africa

On a recent September day in the village of Ossisioma Nigeria more than 150 mothers worried that their children would be the next victims of a local measles epidemic. Gathered in an isolated room another 20 mothers held babies affected by the disease; five infants in the village had already died.
Photo by Dale L. JonesIn Mozambique children notified about local campaign by Church volunteers wait in line to be vaccinated against measles.
Photo by Dale L. JonesBetween 8000 and 10000 Church members in Nigeria have been canvassing neighborhoods this September promoting an initiative to vaccinate millions of children in Africa against measles including child on cover from Mozambique. As part of the initiative the Church has joined other humanitarian organizations to fight the disease.
Photo by Terry MorrisIn the village of Ossisioma Nigeria mothers hold children who have contracted measles. The children are kept separate from the other villagers. A Church initiative is aiming to prevent the scene in other villages.
Elder Terry Morris and Sister Danne Morris helplessly surveyed the scene. Regrettably said Elder Morris vaccine was not readily available that day.
He knew that if statistics held true more children in the village would die. Where health conditions are not acceptable and malnutrition exists more than half of the children who contract measles do not survive.
The village represented what the Church — working with other humanitarian organizations as part of Africas measles initiative — is trying to prevent.
Each year 44 million children suffer from measles and nearly 800000 die from the disease. In Africa alone 200 million children are at risk from measles. However since the 2003 initiative the number of deaths has been reduced 50 percent; measles wards in hospitals once full are now closed.
As humanitarian service missionaries for the Church Elder and Sister Morris are coordinating the Churchs contribution to a current effort that will immunize millions of Nigerians; this year alone the Church is funding more than 1 million immunizations.
The current Church effort comes on the heels of a three-year $3 million initiative to help prevent measles deaths in Africa during which an estimated 3 million children received vaccinations as a result of Church efforts.
In addition to the Nigeria campaign the Church has contributed to measles campaigns in Swaziland Namibia Angola Mozambique and Kenya said Garry Flake director of Church Emergency Response. Future Latter-day Saint efforts will include campaigns in Ghana Sierra Leone and Uganda he said.
The focus of the effort which started in 2003 is of course to save lives such as those lost this month in Ossisioma said Elder Morris. But an almost equally beneficial result for local Church members is the opportunity to give service he added.
This September between 8000 and 10000 Church members from 17 stakes in Nigeria — working under the direction of local priesthood leadership — have been going door to door informing neighbors of the immunization activities at their local schools or health centers Oct. 3-9. As part of the social mobilization they carry some 450000 fliers to fight local suspicion and resistance to immunizations born of misinformation and lack of knowledge. They answer questions about safety and give encouragement.
In addition they hang thousands of posters and hundreds of banners along city streets advertising the immunization. Songs and jingles — composed by Church members — are broadcast on local radio. During immunization week they will use megaphones drums and gongs as town criers or announcers to increase interest in the campaign.
The efforts of local Church members has proven to be invaluable in previous campaigns across Africa. Where the members have served to mobilize and inform their neighbors the numbers of children vaccinated have been increased from three to 10 percentage points said Elder Morris completing his third assignment with the measles initiative in Africa.
In addition Church members will work at the vaccination posts assisting with crowd control and keeping records. When needed Church facilities will be used for the initiative and Latter-day Saint doctors have been asked by the Ministry of Health to give inoculations.
Brother Flake said that in local tradition even the term volunteer in the country means a person paid for his or her work. The current measles initiative he said is the largest Latter-day Saint service project in Nigeria to date.
For many of the members of the Church this is first time they have been involved in an organized Church service project as unpaid volunteers said Brother Flake. It has really made a difference taught them leadership skills. They have learned the power of being a volunteer.
Elder Morris agreed. Perhaps the greatest result of the program other than the protecting of millions of lives is the joy that members feel by serving because of their love of the Savior and learning the true meaning of the second greatest commandment Love they neighbor as thyself he said.
E-mail to: sarah@desnews.com

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