Since the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints joined the Measles Initiative and Partnership in 2003, thousands of Church members have helped in the effort to eliminate the disease.
Measles is a contagious illness that attacks the respiratory system and can cause rashes, pneumonia, inflammation of the brain, and other complications. It is often fatal. According to the Measles Initiative, an estimated 540 children a day died from the disease in 2007. Malnourished and unimmunized children are most at risk from measles. However, the disease can be easily prevented with a vaccine that costs less than US $1 to treat each child.
A group of humanitarian organizations—the American Red Cross, the United Nations Foundation, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, and the World Health Organization—founded the Measles Initiative and Partnership in 2001 with the goal of reducing the number of deaths due to measles worldwide by 90 percent.
As part of the Church’s commitment to the initiative, which included a $3 million donation, the First Presidency invited Church members in affected countries, under the direction of local priesthood and Relief Society leaders, to participate in getting the word out and helping with the vaccinations. From 2003 to 2011, 59,000 Church members around the world have provided more than 750,000 hours of service in 34 countries in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America.
More than 25 Church-service missionary couples support these campaigns. Working on-site from one to two months, these couples coordinate with priesthood and Relief Society leaders, ministries of health, and other partnering organizations to provide volunteer support for various aspects of the campaign. The immunization campaigns supported by the Church are vaccinations against measles, pneumococcal, and rotavirus.
Although Church members don’t purchase or directly administer the vaccines, they canvass neighborhoods to hand out information sheets, hang street posters and banners, help at vaccination posts, and develop radio and TV spots. One young returned missionary composed a musical jingle for the campaign in Madagascar. This jingle has been translated and sung in 30 languages on dozens of radio stations in most countries where the campaign has taken place.
Although the efforts of the campaign have improved many lives, not all the benefits have been physical. Namibia resident Olavi Ndafediva’s sister, who is a member of the Church, volunteered in the local campaign in 2006. One day she told Olavi she couldn’t make it and asked him to go in her place. “After that day,” he said, “I decided I had to find out more about a church that helped my people so much.” After joining the Church, Brother Ndafediva participated in the 2009 campaign.
Cape Verde, a string of islands a few hundred miles off the coast of western Africa, is one of the many countries where Church members volunteered. In the March 2009 campaign, members helped make possible the vaccinations of more than 50,000 children. More than 600 members in Cape Verde volunteered 4,200 hours to promote the campaign door-to-door.
“We had a great involvement of people from the six islands where the Church has branches, especially the youth and young single adults,” said Isias Barreto da Rosa, second counselor in the Cape Verde Praia Mission presidency. “This measles program has definitely broadened our view regarding what we can do to get involved in the resolution of problems in our communities.”