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Church gives $3 million to fight measles in Africa

Local units to volunteer facilities, resources

In an effort to help eradicate measles in Africa, the Church has donated $3 million to an initiative that is vaccinating children on the continent against the disease.

With the Church's donation — $1 million a year for three years, made possible by contributions from members to the Church's Humanitarian Fund — an estimated 3 million children will receive vaccinations through the Measles Initiative.

The initiative is "directly affecting the health of millions of children in a relatively short period of time," said Presiding Bishop H. David Burton. "In a space of three years, hopefully most, if not all the children in the target countries of Africa will have the opportunity of not having to wrestle with the implications of measles that we have taken for granted for so long in Western countries."

The Measles Initiative is a long-term commitment by several humanitarian organizations to control measles deaths in Africa by vaccinating 200 million children. Leading the effort is the American Red Cross, United National Foundation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, United Nations Children's Fund, World Health Organization and Pan American Health Organization. Experts predict the effort could prevent 1.2 million deaths over five years. As of December 2002, more than 80 million children in 16 African nations had been vaccinated against measles through the initiative.

During the Sept. 17 premiere of "Disease of the Wind," a documentary chronicling the plight of measles in Africa, Church leaders pledged their support for the initiative. As part of the event — held at the Motion Picture Association of America in Washington D.C. — Harold Brown, managing director of Welfare and Humanitarian Services and an Area Authority Seventy, presented a check from the Church to Marsha J. Evans, president and CEO of the American Red Cross.

"The Church has helped support Red Cross efforts for a very long time," the Red Cross leader said during the ceremony. "In addition to partnering with the Red Cross during disasters, and to being strong supporters of our Salt Lake City Chapter, they have given more than $1.9 million to the American Red Cross."

She said the Church's gift to the Measles Initiative will spare millions of African children "from the unnecessary tragedy of measles."

"The LDS Church joined us in June for our Zambia vaccination campaign. And in addition to this most generous gift, their volunteers are partnering with our volunteers in Africa during some of our upcoming campaigns."

Bishop Burton said in addition to financial resources, the Church will also participate in local units, providing physical resources and volunteers. "Our meetinghouses, our Relief Societies, our quorums will help with the process," he said. "It takes a lot of volunteers to make this happen."

Elder Brown said the Church has collaborated with the Red Cross many times during the past decade. "They are a respected, worldwide organization and have access to areas that often would be difficult for the Church to reach," he said. "The Church, in its turn, provides needed supplies — everything from newborn kits for refugee mothers, to food and clothing for victims of natural disasters. With our most recent collaboration, immunizing millions of African children, we hope that many families will be spared the bitterness of losing a beloved child."

Garry Flake, director of Church Emergency Response, said, at this time, vaccinations are the only way to control measles, a highly contagious disease. The initiative also makes sense economically, he said.

"The cost of vaccinating a child is less than $1," he said. "Treatment costs $8 to $10 if the child contracts measles."

He said members in Africa would be part of the campaign's grass-root efforts, locating children to immunize and volunteering time and facilities.

"It's just an interest in children's health," he said. "We have almost forgotten about measles here. In Africa it is still so prevalent and can be controlled with a major effort."

E-mail: sarah@desnews.com