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One Shot, One Life: Lions Measles Initiative

A health care worker vaccinates a child in Tamale, Ghana.

A health care worker vaccinates a child in Tamale, Ghana.

One Shot, One Life: Lions Measles Initiative

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Touchstone Story #22

As Lions Clubs International has grown increasingly global, so has the range of problems members are tackling. Lions are playing a key role in the worldwide fight against measles and rubella—vaccine-preventable diseases that threaten the lives of millions of children in the world’s poorest regions. 

Lions were drawn into the fight because measles remains one of the leading causes of death among young children despite the availability of a safe and inexpensive vaccine. Rubella can have serious effects on pregnant women and cause fetal death or congenital birth defects known as congenital rubella syndrome. The spread of the two diseases often can be prevented at the same time through the administration of a combined measles rubella vaccine.

Through the One Shot, One Life: Lions Measles Initiative, Lions have joined a sweeping effort to stamp out measles and rubella by helping to ensure that vast numbers of children in developing countries are vaccinated.

The Lions first entered the fight in 2010 when they joined the Measles & Rubella Initiative, a global partnership formed in 2001 by the American Red Cross, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Foundation. Lions Clubs International Foundation and Lions clubs around the world have thrown their support behind the effort to stamp out the diseases.

Lions-led activities are varied and include mobilizing tens of millions of dollars to support supplemental measles campaigns to vaccinate children, advocating for increased support for immunization systems during World Immunization Week, and providing hands-on social mobilization during measles vaccination campaigns to increase awareness and ensure that all children get vaccinated.

Lions are putting their organizational and education skills to work to help mobilize communities in making a difference. “Vaccines can’t save lives if children don’t receive them,” said Past District Governor Dr. Tebebe Yemane-Berhan, a member of the LCIF Steering Committee from Ethiopia.

An example is found in the African nation of Botswana, where local Lions helped the Ministry of Health conduct an intensive five-day measles vaccination campaign by going door-to-door in the town of Selebi-Phikwe. Lions talked “one-on-one with mothers on their doorsteps to make sure they understood the importance of the vaccinations,” according to Obakeng Kanthaga, who served in 2011 as president of Leo Clubs International District 412, overseeing 50 Leo clubs in Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Farther north in Botswana, local Lions in Francistown sought to make sure vaccinations were understood as safe by organizing actors to stage dramatic shows demonstrating the vaccination process. Botswanan Lions also distributed T-shirts promoting the campaign and paid for 3,500 bright orange hats that identified the public health workers. They also paid for and distributed 10,000 posters and 100,000 flyers publicizing the vaccination campaign.  

Lions’ service has paid off. In 2000, a year before the Measles and Rubella Initiative was created, more than 562,000 children worldwide died from complications related to measles. By 2013, the annual number of such deaths had fallen 74 percent to 145,700. 

Lions stepped up their efforts to fight measles and rubella in mid-2013 by partnering with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, a public-private partnership that funds immunization programs for the world’s poorest countries. As part of the Lions partnership with Gavi, Lions pledged to raise US$30 million to fund Gavi’s measles and rubella programs. Matching funds from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the British government will boost that total to $60 million.

The job isn’t finished. But according to Past International President Wayne Madden, who also served as the LCIF Chairperson in 2013-2014, Lions’ work with vaccine partners is “increasing access to immunization, strengthening communities and savings lives in the process.”

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