Mothers against measles

Nepalese mothers take to the hills to inform people about a vaccination campaign.


Sarah Elizabeth Richards
May 1, 2006 9:11PM (UTC)

In the last of a series of articles about disease control in the developing world, the New York Times' Celia Dugger on Sunday brought us an extraordinary story from Nepal about a public health campaign to vaccinate children against measles. The secret weapon: 50,000, mothers "most of them illiterate, are foot soldiers in one of the great unfolding public health triumphs of modern times," she writes.

These women volunteers trekked over mountain passes to remote homes to personally spread the word about the massive inoculation effort, "then followed up the night before with a reminder visit, shouting their message like town criers," Dugger writes.

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The efforts paid off; the first campaign last year reduced measles-related deaths, which are usually 5,000 annually, by 90 percent, according to the United Nations Children's Fund, which monitored the project. Measles, a disease rarely seen in the United States, kills some 450,000 children around the world every year. (For more information on funding, check out the Measles Initiative.)

It's a lovely - a clearly effective -- tradition. In other past projects, they drastically improved child mortality rates by distributing vitamin A, deworming tablets and oral rehydration salts for diarrhea.

The mothers, who live in a country where there is little respect for women, assumed their duties because they enjoy having a way to contribute to society. "If I didn't tell them about vaccination programs or medicines, they wouldn't know," Doka Gurung, a 30-year-old mother of four who has donated her time to such projects for a decade, told Dugger. "I do help them, and I feel good about that."

We feel good about that, too.


Sarah Elizabeth Richards

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist based in New York. She can be reached at sarah@saraherichards.com.

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