Earlier this month, I traveled to Hamburg, Germany – my first time in this wonderful and amazing city, with its beautiful brick buildings, green parks and bustling port, known as the “Gateway to the World.”
This is an apt description, reflecting the open-mindedness and welcoming nature of its citisens. Indeed, in early July, Hamburg opened its doors by hosting the 96th Lions Clubs International convention with more than 23,000 participants from more than 130 countries.
Lions Clubs is a worldwide service organisation that helps raise money to improve people’s lives around the world. It supports many causes, including the fight against avoidable blindness, disaster relief and global health. The latter now includes an admirable new commitment in the fight against measles. That is where my organisation, the GAVI Alliance, comes into play, and what brought me to Hamburg.
At this year’s Lions Clubs convention before a Hamburg arena filled with approximately 12,000 people, the organisation made an extraordinary announcement: Lions Clubs worldwide will raise US$ 30 million for GAVI’s measles vaccination programmes.
I was on stage with Wing-Kun Tam, Chairman of the Lions Clubs International Foundation, when the announcement was made, and the reaction was pure enthusiasm. Lions Clubs has supported childhood vaccination in developing countries since 2010, and Chairman Tam spoke about the Lions’ strong commitment to join GAVI in its continuous fight against measles. Since 2013, GAVI has combined the measles vaccine with one against rubella (German measles), and GAVI plans to provide it to more than 700 million children in 49 countries by 2020, an effort the Lions Clubs now supports.
And – thanks to an innovative GAVI initiative called the GAVI Matching Fund – the Lions Clubs’ commitment will go even further. Moments after Chairman Tam spoke, two gentlemen entered the stage: Lance Domm from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and Matt Hanson from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Together, they told the audience that their organisations would match – and therefore double – the Lions’ donation to GAVI.
As a result, through the Lions’ generosity, GAVI will receive US$ 60 million to protect children in poor countries against measles and rubella. As the thought sank in of how many lives this will save, thousands of Lions members stood in rousing applause. To witness such momentum in the fight against measles-rubella was overwhelming.
Under the GAVI Matching Fund, contributions to GAVI from companies, foundations, their customers, employees and business partners are matched. With the contribution from the Lions Clubs, GAVI now has raised more than US$ 145 million from 10 private sector partners, with a goal is of raising US$ 260 million by the end of 2015.
Such private sector involvement in helping GAVI immunise children in the poorest countries is critically important. Many people, for instance, still think of measles as a harmless childhood disease. But that’s wrong. Measles is highly infectious, killing an estimated 430 people daily – mostly children in the developing world under age 5, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Similarly, a rubella infection during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth and severe congenital defects, with life-long disability. Each year, 90,000 children in GAVI-eligible countries are born with birth defects because their mothers contracted rubella during pregnancy. Both measles and rubella easily can be prevented by vaccines. The announcements made in Hamburg will help to reduce the number of children affected by these diseases.
The partnership between GAVI and Lions Clubs is not just about funds. We are also joining hands to pool our strengths and redefine how partnerships can impact social mobilisation. The Lions Clubs network consists of 1.35 million volunteers in 208 countries. Chairman Tam told me that Lions volunteers across the world are both moved and excited about accepting this new challenge of joining the fight against measles and rubella.
This army of volunteers worldwide makes Lions an immensely important partner to GAVI, as they not only are raising money to finance life-saving vaccines, but also carrying out hugely effective work on the ground. They will also help promote immunisation and educate politicians, parents, teachers and health workers about the benefits, while helping to spread the word about where and when immunisation campaigns will take place and serving as volunteers at vaccination centers. These Lions volunteers are neighbors, friends and people who are aware of the specific circumstances and challenges in each country, region and community – people who care because they are from those communities, too.
In Hamburg, I had the chance to meet some of these volunteers and was deeply impressed by their commitment. A Lions Club volunteer from Costa Rica told me that in her country everyone is very proud that measles has long been eradicated there. Now, the Costa Rican volunteers are looking forward to raising money to support GAVI’s work in fighting the disease elsewhere. A volunteer from Nigeria told me that she and her fellow Lions members will go to community health centres and schools to champion immunisation and inform people about upcoming vaccination campaigns.
For GAVI, this kind of contribution is extremely valuable and – together with the additional resources – will help us reach 700 million children with the measles-rubella vaccine. Ultimately, this will bring us closer to eliminating this dreadful disease worldwide once and for all.
To learn more about how you can help, visit the GAVI Campaign.