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What Is Measles? The Disease & The Solution

What Is Measles? The Disease & The Solution

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The Disease

dad with daughter, getting a measles shot

Every year, a tragedy quietly strikes thousands of families. While it may not be mentioned on the news or in your local paper, measles takes the lives of 380 children each day, or 139,300 children every year. Of those who survive, nearly 30 percent suffer complications such as vision loss, hearing loss, brain damage, pneumonia, Vitamin A deficiency or encephalitis.

Measles is a highly contagious viral disease, spread through close contact with infected persons. If there is just one person with measles on a crowded bus of 100 people, 90 others will become infected if they are not vaccinated. 

Measles remains a heavy public health burden in developing countries where parents do not have access to immunization services that could protect their children from the disease. Factors such as poverty, poor health systems and a lack of information make it difficult for families to secure preventative medical care.

The Solution

A child in Madagascar is vaccinated against measles.

The Measles Initiative emphasizes mass vaccination campaigns, the process of vaccinating all children in a defined age range in a short period of time, as the best strategy to ensure nationwide coverage. Campaigns are usually countrywide but may take place in multiple phases. On average, Measles Initiative campaigns successfully reach more than 90 percent of the children targeted. The Ministry of Health within each country is responsible for planning and conducting the campaign with technical and financial support from the Measles Initiative partners. 

As of 2002, measles has been eliminated from the Americas and, with continued support, Measles Initiative efforts will end the disease in Africa and India by 2020. This year, the Measles Initiative will coordinate vaccination campaigns in 31 countries.

The Measles Initiative has also helped to boost the health systems in participating countries by training local health workers, improving vaccine storage, promoting safe injection practices and implementing surveillance systems to detect new measles disease outbreaks. 

Interventions for other diseases, such as vaccines, medications or the distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets, are also routinely integrated into measles campaigns.

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