Celebrating 100: Tackling measles in partnership with Lions

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If you’re seeking to make the world a better place, it’s helpful to have a partner who’s already been there, done that—a partner like the Lions.

A century ago, Lions Clubs International embarked on a bold undertaking to become a leader in community and humanitarian service around the globe. Now in 2017, it’s clear that they’ve succeeded in that mission. With 1.4 million members in 210 countries, they’re the world’s largest service organization and one of the most experienced groups at tackling global challenges on the front lines. Whether providing disaster relief to cities ravaged by tornadoes, helping to restore vision for millions of people, or advocating for routine immunization, Lions Club members have had incredible impact for a century.

This year, the Lions are celebrating their Centennial—an incredible achievement for any organization, but one made even more meaningful when marking 100 years of service to communities far and wide. As a huge fan of the Lions and all they do, I figured I’d celebrate this momentous occasion with a story about a near-and-dear issue in which they are playing a pivotal role today: preventing measles and rubella.

From 2000 to 2015, worldwide deaths due to measles fell by an astounding 80 percent. However, children in many of the world’s most disadvantaged communities continue to go unvaccinated. So in 2010, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation challenged the Lions to raise millions in support of measles campaigns across more than 80 developing countries. How did they respond? The Lions dove right in, raising the funds ahead of schedule—and adding another $30 million just three years later.

But the Lion’s contributions have gone well beyond mere dollars and cents. Like in India, where their volunteers will soon canvass the country to immunize more than 400 million children against measles and educate parents on the vaccine’s benefits and safety. It’s the exact type of comprehensive campaign that has helped countries like Bhutan and the Maldives to eliminate endemic measles.

Despite this progress, the global measles outlook has begun to shift in others ways. Recent outbreaks in Minnesota and Italy have started put the focus on high-income countries, where a rise in vaccine hesitancy has transformed the disease into a modern public health crisis. And increasingly, it has become clear that the challenge of immunization ranges from supplying vaccines where demand is high to raising demand where supply is abundant. Even so, these varied circumstances provide opportunities to rethink health systems, expand vaccine coverage and increase the role of community organizations, like Lions, in immunization.

There are few organizations that can rise to such a unique challenge, with both the trust to educate parents and geographic reach to assist immunization campaigns in some of the hardest-to-reach communities. But the Lions are one of them. As a public health advocate, I’m proud to call them partners in our fight against measles and rubella.

So if you’re similarly passionate about public health, or merely looking to make a difference within your community, I hope you will check out your local club to see how you can help the Lion’s important work. I can think of no better way to honor their legacy. And finally, congratulations to the Lions Clubs International. Here’s to another 100 years of outstanding service.