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Growing Up Stronger and Healthier in Madagascar
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Michael Oko
November 20, 2007

“America is very far from here,” said Priana, a young Malagasy woman, wrapped in a bright red sarong, cradling her 6-month-old son. “We are very grateful for the help that the Red Cross and others are giving to our children in this village.”

A Red Cross volunteer marks an infant’s finger to indicate that she received a measles vaccine in Toliara, Madagascar.
A Red Cross volunteer marks an infant’s finger to indicate that she received a measles vaccine in Toliara, Madagascar.
(Photo credit: Gene Daily/American Red Cross)

Priana lives in a small village near Toilara, on the west coast of Madagascar – an island nation off the southeast coast of Africa. Time seems to almost stand still in this village, where goats and chickens roam freely, and ox carts are almost as common as cars.

Earlier this month there was a big event in this village, and throughout Madagascar, as millions of mothers, grandmothers and caregivers brought their children to get measles vaccines and insecticide-treated mosquito nets as part of a national health campaign. The campaign was led by the government of Madagascar, with support from the American Red Cross, its partners in the Measles Initiative and other international organizations.

As part of the campaign, the American Red Cross, led by Chairman Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, hosted a group of business executives and partners on a humanitarian observation trip. The participants gained a firsthand view of the inner-workings of an integrated health campaign that provided more than 2.8 million children with measles vaccines, Vitamin A and de-worming medicine, and an additional 1.5 million children with mosquito nets for malaria prevention.

Although measles and malaria have been virtually eliminated from the United States, they continue to affect millions of people around the world, especially in Africa, where more than 1 million children die each year from these diseases. In Madagascar, malaria is the biggest killer of children and more than 95 percent of the population is at-risk of this disease.

“The numbers are staggering but they do not tell the full story. Seeing the children here really brings home the importance of health campaigns, which have an immediate impact in improving children’s lives,” said David Meltzer, Senior Vice President of International Services for the American Red Cross. “We need to continue to work together to make sure that the children in Madagascar and other high-risk areas have the chance of growing up stronger and healthier.”

Over two weeks, nearly 70,000 health workers and community volunteers worked across Madagascar to ensure the success of this campaign. There were more than 3,000 fixed sites and 5,500 advanced sites set up to make the campaign reached every mother and child in the target group.

Partners Working Together

Clothilde (center) founded a branch of the Malagasy Red Cross in 1955. Here she is surrounded by children.
Clothilde (center) founded a branch of the Malagasy Red Cross in 1955. Here she is surrounded by children.
(Photo: Michael Oko/American Red Cross)

The American Red Cross has been working with the Malagasy Red Cross society, whose volunteers helped to mobilize communities and inform mothers of the importance of bringing their children to distribution sites. Over the following two years, the American Red Cross will continue to support the Malagasy Red Cross in carrying out follow-up activities, where trained volunteers will go house-to-house to teach mothers and families how to properly use and care for mosquito nets.

At one health post, in the village of Belalanda, the participants in the American Red Cross delegation were greeted by a group of volunteers from the Malagasy Red Cross. Among the volunteers was an older woman, Randriambeloson Clothilde, who helped usher children toward the health center.

Clothilde is not just a volunteer for the Malagasy Red Cross, she is the founder of the Red Cross branch in this village. Even more remarkably, in a country where most women live only around 60 years, Clothilde is 81 years old. While she does not have children of her own, it is clear that she is “grandmother” of this community.

As a circle of children surround her, she explained, “The people here are very poor and they cannot afford to buy nets or medicine. It is very lucky that the Red Cross is here for them.”

The Measles Initiative is a partnership committed to reducing measles deaths globally. Launched in 2001, the Measles Initiative—led by the American Red Cross, the United Nations Foundation, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF and the World Health Organization—provides technical and financial support to governments and communities on vaccination campaigns in all regions of the world. To date, the Initiative has supported the vaccination of more than 372 million children helping to reduce measles deaths by more than 60% globally (compared to 1999). To learn more or make a donation, visit www.measlesinitiative.org.

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