Even with a vaccine more than 300 children die needlessly everyday from measles.

By Carl Eisner, MD and Past President Rotary Club of Dryden
 
December is Rotary’s disease prevention and treatment month. This is one of the six areas of focus of the Rotary foundation. Much headway has been made in this area over the past decades – for instance, polio has been 99.9% eradicated, compared to where the world was with polio when rotary became involved.
And yet, as I read this, 60 people, mostly children, have this year died from measles in Samoa, a small island nation in the south Pacific. Samoa’s total population is about 200,000 people, so to put it to scale, this would be equivalent to 11,000 deaths in Canada. All of this from a disease which is virtually 100% preventable.
 
Samoa is a relatively well developed and prosperous country with an excellent public health care system. Unfortunately, due to an anti-vaccine movement, the vaccination rate among the population fell to about 30%, resulting in the deadly outbreak. In Canada the rate of Measles immunization varies a great deal from province to province and region to region, but overall is just below 90% mark. For this reason, measles is relatively rare in Canada, but fears are that the rate of vaccination is falling, making Canada more susceptible to the kind of tragedy that Samoa is facing. The “ideal” vaccination rate is 95% to create “herd immunity”, where even the unvaccinated are unlikely to get measles simply because they aren’t exposed to it (unless they travel to an area where they are more likely to be exposed).
 
There is no effective treatment for measles. Prevention is the only course available.
 
The measles vaccine is not 100% effective. About 4% of people who have been immunized will develop measles if they are exposed. This contrasts to more than 85% of people who have not been immunized. In Canada, about 10% of children who develop measles will get sick enough to require hospitalization.  Some of those who recover will have permanent neurologic disability and will die from encephalitis (measles of the brain).
 
 It is not a benign disease. In 2019 measles will kill about 140,000 children worldwide, this being down from 600,000 deaths a year two decades earlier. The Rotary Foundation is involved in immunization for measles and other potentially deadly illnesses around the world – not just polio. Many other organizations, such as Doctors Without Boarders, are also involved.
 
On a personal level, if you wish to contribute to disease prevention and treatment, make sure your own immunizations are up to date, as are those of your family and loved ones. If you are concerned about the safety of vaccines, I would encourage you to go to reputable medical internet sites for information, such as the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic, John Hopkins, etc. There is a lot of misinformation out there.
 
Lastly, donations to organizations like The Rotary Foundation or Doctors Without Boarders (MSF) will help. If you donate to the RF endowment fund, you can specify that the donation goes directly to disease prevention and treatment, as opposed to one of the other areas of focus.
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