By Anmol Nigam, American Red Cross Communications Volunteer
In the year 2000, a public health milestone was reached. It was the year measles was eliminated from the United States. Nearly ten years later, students at Gilmour Academy in Gates Mills, Ohio decided there was still more to be done. While eliminated locally, measles was still causing half a million deaths every year around the world. The students knew that for every dollar raised for the American Red Cross Measles and Rubella Initiative, the life of a child could be saved. Inspired by that work, a group of seniors at Gilmour formed their own “Measles Initiative” to help out. Since the foundation of the student organization, the group has raised a total of nearly $30,000 to provide children with life-saving vaccines.
Gilmour Mathematics Instructor Karen Roxbury serves as the club moderator for the Measles initiative club. She explains that her role is minor compared to the efforts of her students.
“The student members plan and execute all aspects of the fundraising activities. It is their passion that allows us to raise funds to support health initiatives in the world,” Roxbury said. “ I have so much respect and admiration for their dedication.”
The Measles Initiative fundraises through three yearly events: a halloween costume contest, a valentine’s day candy-gram, and a used clothing sale. Those familiar with the organization say that the club helps children in more ways than one.
“Measles is a great way for young people to get involved with big issues,” explained recent graduate Hannah Kirchner in an interview with the Gilmour Lancet.
For big issues like this, it takes global coordination. In 2001, the Measles & Rubella Initiative was announced to stop child death from measles or disability from congenital rubella syndrome.
The Initiative was founded by the American Red Cross, the United Nations Foundation, the CDC, UNICEF and the World Health Organization. The Measles & Rubella Initiative is a global partnership established to eradicate measles and rubella, saving the lives of millions of people. Working with partner organizations, the American Red Cross has increased access to vaccinations in areas with the highest risks for measles infection.
Worse than the Common Cold
Those not vaccinated are at serious risk for infection. Without the immunity provided by vaccines, people exposed to measles have up to a 90% chance of also becoming infected. The first symptoms start 10-12 days from contact with the microscopic measles virus. This virus can easily spread through the air and starts with a high fever. Days later, a rash appears on the face and neck, rapidly spreading over the entire body within three days.
The CDC explains that “Measles can be a serious in all age groups. However, children younger than 5 years of age and adults older than 20 years of age are more likely to suffer from measles complications.”
Children with poor nutrition and individuals with weakened immune systems are some of the highest risk groups for these complications. 1 out of 10 of these high-risk infections results in death. Despite the high virulence of the disease, it is entirely preventable with the measles vaccination. Often, this vaccination is combined with the vaccination for rubella, which is known as “German Measles.”
Ways You Can Help
On the ten-year anniversary of the initiative’s foundation, Chief International Officer of the American Red Cross David Meltzer said, “With every dollar donated, we vaccinated another child. Across the globe, we stopped outbreaks, improved treatment and protected future generations from one of the world’s deadliest diseases. This milestone in measles control is significant and improves the overall outlook for children’s health around the world.”
The World Health Organization estimates that over 17 million lives have been saved from increased measles vaccinations. While there has been progress, increased efforts to ensure global coverage are still needed. The latest estimates show a 84% drop in measles deaths since the start of the initiative. Despite these strides in coverage, more than 430 children still die every day from this preventable disease.
You can help Red Cross efforts to eradicate measles worldwide by texting the word PREVENT to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Or you can donate online, or call 1-800-RED CROSS.
Mike Parks, Regional CEO of the Red Cross of Northeast Ohio, said, “We are grateful to the students of Gilmour Academy for their part in tackling this global health issue on a local level. Those who have taken part in the school’s Measles Initiative should feel good about the good they’ve done.”
Learn more about the Measles & Rubella Initiative here.