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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University February 19, 2007 | Vol. 36 No. 22
Students Saving Lives, $1 At a Time

The Johns Hopkins Measles Initiative gets under way today. Last week, a group of the students scoped out the Newton H. White Jr. Athletic Center.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

Campaign to vaccinate against measles takes to JHU's sporting venues

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Roughly 410,000 children under the age of 5 die each year from measles, and many more suffer health complications caused by the disease, including pneumonia, encephalitis and corneal scarring, which can lead to blindness.

While measles has been virtually eliminated in the Western Hemisphere, millions of children in developing nations remain at risk from the contagious disease that can be prevented with a simple and inexpensive vaccination. Quite literally, a shot that costs less than $1 can save a life.

A group of Johns Hopkins undergraduates has heard the call and wants to save 4,000 lives — and perhaps many more.

The Johns Hopkins Measles Initiative, founded this year, is a student-led effort that seeks to raise $4,000 that will be donated to the international Measles Initiative, a partnership of the American Red Cross, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, United Nations Foundation, UNICEF and the World Health Organization.

Founded in 2001, the Measles Initiative has to date helped vaccinate 217 million children in more than 44 countries, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. The effort seems to be working. Since 1999, measles cases and deaths in Africa have dropped by 60 percent, and globally measles deaths have dropped by 48 percent from 871,000 in 1999 to an estimated 454,000 in 2004. The initiative's goal is to reduce measles deaths by 90 percent by 2010.

Danielle Wray, co-founder of the Johns Hopkins Measles Initiative and a sophomore public health major, said that last year she became aware of this international public health effort and wanted to do her part.

"I was shocked by the number [of deaths], and from something as simple as measles, which barely exists in the United States," Wray said. "I thought this is something we should be doing more about."

The fund-raising effort kicks off today outside the Newton H. White Jr. Athletic Center, where student volunteers will staff a table to hand out literature and accept donations. The campaign, which will run through the rest of the semester, will continue to have a visible presence in and around the Athletic Center, as the group has joined up with the Athletic Department and plans to set up information tables at varsity lacrosse games and other Johns Hopkins spring sporting events.

In addition, the 40-member group plans to set up tables in the dining halls during a week in March and will have a booth at Spring Fair. The initiative will also host several events during the semester, including a presentation by measles expert William Moss, an associate professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health, on March 6 in Mudd Auditorium, and an a cappella concert featuring the Buttered Niblets on April 19 in Shriver Hall. The times will be announced soon.

To help in its efforts, the Johns Hopkins Measles Initiative has enlisted the support of other students groups, including Alpha Phi Omega, the Public Health Student Forum, Critical Mass and the Johns Hopkins chapter of the Red Cross.

The money raised will primarily go to efforts to help children in Asia, where more vaccinations are desperately needed, according to Wray.

"Our slogan is '$1 saves one life,' because for the children in Asia, $1 is the difference between becoming vaccinated for measles or not," Wray said.

The group chose the $4,000 goal to roughly represent the size of the undergraduate student body at Johns Hopkins.

Wray said that the group members are energized and focused on getting the message out and reaching their goal — but they don't want to stop there.

"We will try to make this a recurring event," she said. "Next year we want to involve other area schools and maybe start up a healthy competition where we try to outraise each other. In any case, we want to continue to raise awareness and more money after this initial campaign is over."

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