Red Cross volunteers to help protect Togo children from diseases
13 December 2004
Geneva: The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent is launching an “unprecented campaign” to protect children in Togo from three killer diseases – malaria, measles and polio.
Crucial to the success of the campaign will be the ability of the Togolese Red Cross’s 7,400 community-based volunteers to access poor, isolated communities.
“Our volunteers will not only be active during the campaign. They have already been raising awareness ahead of the campaign, and will play a vital follow-up role, reinforcing the important message about high insecticide-treated bed net (ITN) coverage and ensuring that nets are being used correctly,” says Norbert Gagno Paniah, President of the Togo Red Cross.
In the biggest health intervention of its kind to date and with considerable Red Cross funding and support, 730,000 households in the West African country will receive an ITN to combat malaria in conjunction with a mass measles and polio vaccination campaign.
As well as vaccinating almost one million children against measles and polio, the campaign will target every household in Togo with a child under the age of five with an ITN. De-worming medication will also be given.
This is the first time global public health partners involved in the Measles Initiative have targeted an entire country for bed net distribution, following two successful pilot schemes in Ghana in 2002 and Zambia in 2003.
Since the Measles Initiative started in 2001, there has been a remarkable 47 per cent fall in measles mortality in Africa, and by 2005, some 200 million children across the continent will have been vaccinated against the disease. In 2002, the American Red Cross and International Federation advocated for other life-saving health interventions to be incorporated to take advantage of what is a major logistical undertaking.
“Like measles, malaria is easily preventable, especially if several partners with complementary competencies and political will can come together, as we are doing in Togo. The partnership has made impressive progress in reducing measles mortality. Now we are trying to do the same with malaria,” says Markku Niskala, Secretary General of the International Federation, who is in Togo for the campaign.
“In Ghana and Zambia, we have witnessed integrated campaigns achieving rapid, high, and equitable coverage of ITNs at low cost, by piggy-backing on mass measles campaigns. We hope this campaign in Togo will be seen a watershed moment in public health in Africa, an effort that can be replicated in other countries, thus saving thousands more lives, and helping us move towards the Millennium Development Goal of reducing child mortality,” he adds.
Using the platform of measles immunisation, an ITN can be delivered to a child for less than $0.50. Even so, an integrated health intervention requires considerable funding, and many organisations are supporting the Togo campaign: In addition to the traditional Measles Initiative collaborators, other partners include the Togo Red Cross and the Togolese Ministry of Health, the Canadian, Norwegian and New Zealand Red Cross Societies, the Canadian and Norwegian government development agencies, the International Federation Foundation Board and private sector partners, including DHL, Vestergaard-Frandsen and Air France.
The Togo campaign is part of wider efforts to dramatically reduce measles deaths in Africa. The Measles Initiative partners include the American Red Cross, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the UN Foundation and the International Federation.