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It’s a Small World: Measles Anywhere is Measles Everywhere

Children visited by Red Cross volunteers during a social mobilization effort for measles in Benin. Photo: American Red Cross/Niki Clark

Children visited by Red Cross volunteers during a social mobilization effort for measles in Benin. Photo: American Red Cross/Niki Clark

It’s almost become a cliché in the headlines. But in many ways, it’s true. It is a small world. While news of the measles outbreak at California’s Disneyland and information about vaccinations are making headlines this week, the American Red Cross has been focused on the virus—and its elimination—for nearly a decade and a half. Because measles anywhere means measles everywhere.

Even though measles was eliminated from the United States in 2000, outbreaks can occur when unvaccinated travelers pick up the measles abroad, importing the virus as an unwelcome, and often unknown, souvenir. Last year’s outbreaks in Ohio, Washington state, New York, San Diego and Nebraska have all been linked back to unvaccinated Americans that had recently visited measles hotspots abroad.

Those hotspots are exactly the type of places where M&RI is working the hardest. Since 2001, the Red Cross, as a partner in the Measles & Rubella Initiative (M&RI), has vaccinated 1.1 billion children in some 80 countries, helping to raise measles vaccination coverage to 84% globally, and reduced measles deaths by 71%. Which means there are less chances of measles being imported into countries that have already eliminated the virus. And while health advances have been impressive, outbreaks like the one in California—now confirmed at 51 cases—have clearly demonstrated that the work of M&RI is far from over.

The Red Cross serves a unique role in measles and rubella campaigns. In a world where one in every 500 people on the planet is a Red Cross volunteer, our reach is unsurpassed. And that reach enables us to go door to door in communities where campaigns are happening, both before, during and after, spreading the word to mothers and families. In order for a campaign to be considered successful, a 95% coverage rate is needed. Red Cross volunteers, neighbors living in the communities in which they work, can help this happen.

Measles is a highly contagious virus, spread by contact with an infected person through coughing and sneezing. When one person has measles, 90% of people they come into close contact with will become infected, if they are not already immune through vaccination or previous contraction.

Before the formation of M&RI, more than 562,000 children died worldwide from measles complications each year, some 1,539 every day, mostly children under five years of age. While there have been great improvements, today an estimated 122,000 children—approximately 330 per day—still die from measles-related complications every year. This number is even more tragic when considering that is only costs $1 to vaccinate a child, making it one of the most cost effective global health interventions.

It is a small world. Outbreaks in Africa, Asia and Europe later show up as outbreaks on our own front doors. But together, we can eliminate measles once and for all.

For more information or to donate, visit www.measlesrubellainitiative.org. To see how Red Cross volunteers help spread the word during measles campaigns, watch Door to Door: A Measles Campaign in Benin.

Hitting the Pavement: Smoke Alarm Installations Across the Country

Nothing helps rally Red Cross chapters and communities across the country like a prodigious goal. And in October, that’s what the Red Cross laid out: Over the next five years, we want to reduce the number of deaths and injuries from home fires in the United States by as much as 25 percent.

CAMPAIGN

The home fire prevention campaign launched this past October and working with fire departments and community groups nationwide, the Red Cross has already installed thousands of smoke alarms in communities across the country. The effort involves educating people about fire safety through door-to-door canvassing in high-risk fire neighborhoods and installation of smoke alarms in some of these neighborhoods.

CANVASSING

Over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, Red Crossers across the country partnered with fire departments, AmeriCorps, FEMA Corps, Boy Scouts, universities and more to make sure folks had smoke alarms, working batteries, and to teach people about home fire safety.

Here’s just a sampling of all the great work in progress across the country:

 

From New Jersey:

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MLK -  East Orange , NJ

MLK - New Jersey canvassing

  To Chicago:

MLK - Chicago

In Hagerstown, Maryland:

MLK - Hagerstown 2

And Culpepper, Virginia:

MLK - Culpepper, VA

MLK - Culpeper, VA 3

MLK - Culpeper, VA 2

Over to Colorado Springs:

MLK - Colorado Springs, CO

And all the way to California:

MLK - Santa Ana MLK - Turnlock, California

Red Cross Orange County Chapter

New York:

MLK- NYC

Red Cross Greater New York

Up to the Dakotas:

Red Cross Dakotas Region

 

Learn more about the campaign on redcross.org.

If you want to help:

You can help people affected by disasters like home fires and countless other crises by making a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. Visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Seven Tips for Preventing the Flu

Marie Etienne, DNP, ARNP, PLNC is the chair of the International Nursing Committee of the American Red Cross. She is a specialist in family and pediatric nursing and is a professor of nursing at Miami Dade College. 

Flu season is upon us, and now is the time to take steps that will help you avoid being sick in bed with body aches, fever and a runny nose..

Here are seven tips to beat back the bug from the Red Cross:

  1. If you haven’t already, get a flu shot. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone aged six months and older. Pregnant women, people aged 50 or older, those with chronic medical conditions, people living in group facilities and children are at higher risk for complications and should be sure to get vaccinated, as should their caregivers. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to offer maximum protection, so get yours early.
  2. Soap it and stop it. Proper hand washing helps avoid getting and spreading the flu. If using soap and water: wash thoroughly for at least 20 seconds, rinse, and then dry with a disposable towel (and use it to turn off the faucet). If using an alcohol-based sanitizer: rub thoroughly over the hands until the gel dries.
  3.  Watch your hands. Keep hands away from the eyes, nose and mouth to stop flu germs from entering the body. If you sneeze or cough, do it into a tissue and throw it away. If you don’t have a tissue, direct your germs into your elbow, not your hands.
  4. Keep your distance. The flu virus is spread by respiratory droplets, so avoid close contact such as handshakes and hugs with people and co-workers who may be ill. Keep up your resistance to germs by eating a balanced diet, getting plenty of sleep and exercising regularly.
  5. Don’t share your stuff. Avoid sharing items at home and work such as utensils, drinks, computers, telephones and mobile devices. If you must share, disinfect surfaces before and after. Regularly disinfect doorknobs, switches, handles, desks and other surfaces that are commonly touched.
  6. Take care of a fever. Common signs of the flu include high fever, severe body aches, headache, extreme tiredness, sore throat, cough, runny or stuffy nose, and vomiting and/or diarrhea (the latter more common in children).  If you get the flu, keep others well by staying at home until 24 hours after your fever is gone without taking medication.
  7. Keep flu tips at your fingertips. The Red Cross First Aid app is available in English and in Spanish, and can be downloaded directly from product specific app stores or by going to redcross.org/apps. For more Red Cross information on avoiding the flu, click here.

Haiti Earthquake: 5 Years On

Five years after a massive earthquake struck Haiti, many still feel the effects of the disaster: family members lost, injuries sustained, and the patchwork of their hometown forever changed. But Haitians haven’t been sitting still in the aftermath of the tragedy. Instead, they have spent the past five years rebuilding, recovering, and living with optimism for the future.

In Port-au-Prince, neighbors are helping one another to get back on steady financial footing through self-run savings groupsThey lend one another money and get to see their own (and others’) entrepreneurial dreams come true. Although many people lost their way of earning an income when the earthquake turned their businesses and assets into rubble, they see a way forward. 

The American Red Cross, in partnership with Mercy Corps, has helped set up 35 savings and loan associations in the neighborhood of Carrefour-Feuilles. At least 35 more will be set up by community members. 

Visit this page to learn more about American Red Cross relief efforts in Haiti.

…and a Happy, Healthy New Year- Ebola Prevention Wishes for 2015

Catherine Kane is a senior communications officer for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Based in Geneva, she was recently deployed to Sierra Leone to support beneficiary communications initiatives as part of the Red Cross response to the ongoing Ebola outbreak.

As we headed into a community in Freetown, Sierra Leone, this morning, I saw a blue wooden bench at the side of the road, labeled “Long Bench Brotherhood”. It seemed inviting, a perch from which one could see all of the neighbourhood’s activity, but it was empty. I took a photograph, wondering why it was empty on Christmas Day, a day of rest.

20141225 Sierra Leone Kington Bridge Long Bench

A uniformed policeman let the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society team with which I was travelling pass through a series of narrow alleyways into a community of several dozen people. We were in Kington Bridge to engage with the community for several reasons. They were in quarantine, following several members having gotten Ebola. The Ministry of Health and partners recently scaled up holding centres, where one waits 24 hours for the results of a laboratory test while receiving care, and treatment centres in the Freetown area from 16 facilities to 90. The more recent cases in Kington Bridge were uncovered quickly. The community had learned from the Red Cross social mobilization and contact tracing teams that sick people must not be touched and that they should call 117 as soon as they are sick so they can receive safe medical care.

Mamvana, an animated man, perhaps in his forties, who described himself as the right hand of village headman Suleimon, met us at the entrance of the community and gathered his family and neighbours. An inviting smell rose from the pot next to me, cooking over a woodstove as we spoke. As a special Christmas treat, they were cooking a chicken to go with the potato leaves being chopped by the young women next to us. Mamvana, asked by the social mobilization team, described his understanding of Ebola and how the community should protect itself. Multiple discussions with Red Cross community engagement teams over the past few months of intermittent quarantines had helped him and others know what to do, especially now that more treatment centres are available to accommodate the sick, and more rapid pick-up is available to ensure a safe and dignified burial for the deceased.

To the contact tracing team, which comes to the community every day for 21 days after a case is discovered, he proudly announced that everyone in the community was still feeling well. This daily health check is essential  to ensure the safety of the community itself, since the virus has an incubation period of three weeks, and to ensure people don’t spread the disease to others in this heavily populated area. Only six more days, and they would be free to leave the community when they wanted and, most importantly, resume sitting on the Long Bench Brotherhood. Mystery solved!

While Mamvana disappeared into his home, built of corrugated tin, to find his favourite photograph of the bench, we spoke with a young woman who had been leaning against a concrete wall during our conversations. Mabinti is one of the strongest people in the world right now. Having come to Freetown to care for her sick auntie, she contracted Ebola. But she survived. Shyly, she described the experience. Mabinti, as a survivor, is now immune to the virus. Still, she is stigmatized by some. Her village would not allow her to return, a difficult challenge for the young woman. Though she has been welcomed into Kington Bridge by Suleiman and his wells that is starting to peek through at moments.

20141225 Sierra Leone Kington Bridge Survivor

We catch a glimpse when Mamvana returns with his photograph, one of his most treasured possessions. It shows the smiling men of the village beside the long blue bench. As we all smiled, thinking of the freedom that will be theirs in less than a week, he led the community in singing, “We wish you a merry Christmas”. Threading my way back through the narrow streets, escorted by the police officers, I hoped and sang again to myself, “and a happy, healthy New Year.”

20141225 Sierra Leone Kington Bridge Community Leader

To learn more about the American Red Cross response to Ebola outbreaks in West Africa and around the world, please visit this page.

Top Ten Red Cross Cold Weather Safety Tips

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As temperatures drop this winter, the American Red Cross offers ten steps people can take to stay safe during the cold weather.

  1. Layer up! Wear layers of lightweight clothing to stay warm. Gloves and a hat will help prevent losing your body heat.
  2. Don’t forget your furry friends. Bring pets indoors. If they can’t come inside, make sure they have enough shelter to keep them warm and that they can get to unfrozen water.
  3. Remember the three feet rule. If you are using a space heater, place it on a level, hard surface and keep anything flammable at least three feet away – things such as paper, clothing, bedding, curtains or rugs.
  4. Requires supervision – Turn off space heaters and make sure fireplace embers are out before leaving the room or going to bed.
  5. Don’t catch fire! If you are using a fireplace, use a glass or metal fire screen large enough to catch sparks and rolling logs.
  6. Protect your pipes. Run water, even at a trickle, to help prevent your pipes from freezing. Open the kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. Be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals out of the reach of children. Keep the garage doors closed if there are water lines in the garage.
  7. Better safe than sorry. Keep the thermostat at the same temperature day and night. Your heating bill may be a little higher, but you could avoid a more costly repair job if your pipes freeze and burst.
  8. The kitchen is for cooking. Never use a stove or oven to heat your home.
  9. Use generators outside. Never operate a generator inside the home, including in the basement or garage.
  10. Knowledge is power. Don’t hook a generator up to the home’s wiring. The safest thing to do is to connect the equipment you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator.

For more information on how to stay safe during the cold weather, visit winter storm safety.

2015 Resolutions: 3 Ideas from the Red Cross

With the new year, comes a new you! But for many of us, New Year’s resolutions don’t always pan out.  We try to lose weight, get to the gym more or even take up a hobby. But the changes become overwhelming by day 3 (or is that just me?).

If you’re looking for new resolutions, or just something different for 2015, what about a resolution to pay it forward? We have plenty of ideas of how you can help someone else, including a chance to roll up a sleeve.

Here are three things you can do to help your fellow human this year:

1. Volunteer 

Colorado Wildfires 2012

Here’s a crazy fact: Volunteers constitute 90% of the total American Red Cross workforce to carry out our humanitarian work. There are tons of different ways to volunteer with your local Red Cross chapter. Find out what fits you best.

2. Save a Life

CPR/AED First Aid Class

We’ve all been in a situation where someone has needed first aid or CPR (or at least a close call). Brush up on your CPR and first aid skills in 2015, or take a class for the very first time! You can see when the next class is available by visiting our class finder page.

3. Give Blood. 

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This is a 3-for-1 deal: Every time you donate blood, you could help save up to 3 lives. Blood can be safely donated every 56 days and platelets can be given every seven days – up to 24 times a year. Start getting those appointments on your calendar, and pay it forward in 2015.

 

What You Loved on Red Cross Social in 2014

As we close down 2014, we were going to cover the top 10 search terms you used to find our blog. But that basically simmered down to Captain Crunch, the Titanic, and squirrel photobombs. No joke.

So instead, we dug into what social posts resonated with you this year. Was it the launch of our home fire campaign? The swim campaign to reduce deaths by drowning?

It turns out, you — our wonderful, dedicated, passionate Red Cross social followers — are interested in time. Historic photos, the end of Daylight Saving Time, how often we respond to home fires.

Here are the posts you loved the most (or the ones you missed!)

Facebook

#1: Flashback Friday — #DDay 70th Anniversary edition: Red Cross workers land on the beach in France (1944)

nurses

(See more about our Services to the Armed Forces work)

#2: Tonight don’t forget to TURN and TEST 

DaylightSavingTime

#3: Today and everyday, we support our veterans

Rec Hut replacement

Twitter

#1 (a reprise of #2 above!): Don’t forget to turn back your clock+test your smoke alarm!

#2: Every 8 mins #RedCross responds to a home fire

Every8Min

#3: Urgent need for blood donors

urgent need for donors

(Learn more about donating blood and sign up for an appointment on redcrossblood.org.)

That’s all for 2014! Let us know in the comments if we missed any of your favorite posts, or anything you’d like to see next year!

Indian Ocean Tsunami: 10 Years and a Lot of Mangrove Trees

This post was written by Jenelle Eli, a member of the American Red Cross international communications team. 

Volunteers carry mangrove saplings“Just be sure not to wander off the path, okay? We want to avoid alligators.”

This phrase reached my ears just moments before following a dozen Red Cross volunteers into waist-deep waters in Aceh, Indonesia. The “path” was an underwater plank leading the way to our mangrove planting spot. The plank was a little wobbly, but one alligator warning was enough to steady my footing.

Ten years ago, this body of water was overwhelmed by the Indian Ocean Tsunami—one of the worst natural disasters in modern history. A massive earthquake set off tsunami waves, which struck coastal communities from Southeast Asia to East Africa. In Indonesia, more than 160,000 people died. Those who survived lost almost everything, including their sources of income, which depended on fishing and other forms of aquaculture from bodies of water like this one.

In the days and years following the tsunami, the American Red Cross helped families rebuild their homes, schools, markets, and communities.

So why, a decade later, are we still in Aceh, Indonesia? And why am I waist-deep in murky water?

After an international disaster – like the Indian Ocean Tsunami – the global Red Cross network can provide immediate necessities like food, water, hygiene kits, and mosquito nets. But people surviving disasters like this tsunami sometimes need way more help than that.

In Indonesia, 500,000 people were left homeless. So over time, the Red Cross built new houses. And then the Red Cross connected those houses to running water. We trained local people to maintain the new sanitation infrastructure so that it continues to deliver safe water for years to come.

But even at that, families who survive major natural disasters might still struggle. In Aceh, people lost their jobs when the tsunami destroyed marketplaces, agricultural land, and the places where they fished. So the Red Cross stayed in Indonesia far past 2004. We rebuilt markets. We supplied spice vendors with equipment. And we are still there, restoring ecosystems by planting mangrove trees.

The new mangrove trees not only slow down storm surges and decrease erosion, they also absorb three times as much carbon dioxide as other trees. They dissolve heavy metals like mercury, so that the fish are safe to eat. The mangrove trees provide a habitat for shrimp and oysters, which deliver a new source of income for local families.

Red Cross volunteers have seen the positive results with their own eyes. That’s why, ten years after the tsunami, they’re wading into murky waters and avoiding alligators… all in the name of planting mangrove trees.

It’s this long-term thinking that ensures people not only get back on their feet after disasters, but that they thrive far into the future.

Remembering the Indian Ocean Tsunami

This post was written by Jonathan Aiken, who manages the American Red Cross’s video team.  

JonathanAikenOn Christmas night 2004 I was working at CNN International in Atlanta, anchoring newscasts that few, if anyone in America were watching. It’s not really a big night for TV viewing and CNN International wasn’t widely available in the U.S. For most of those watching, it was already December 26th.

Across Asia, people were working; the cities were crowded, and along the coasts, the fishing fleets were out. At beach resorts in Thailand, many tourists were enjoying their holidays. Back in Atlanta, the first wire bulletins crossed around 8:00 Christmas night. A large earthquake had struck, centered off Indonesia’s western coast. No word yet of damage.

A short time later, an AP wire dispatch: datelined Phuket, Thailand (about 300 miles northeast of where the quake originated). Short and to the point, it quoted a resort hotel manager: people were swept off the beach by large waves, and disappeared.

Within 24 hours, we had all seen the amateur video showing water crashing through palm trees in Phuket, and inundating the streets of Banda Aceh in Indonesia. The news would last for days. Some counts put the death toll at 250,000 or more. Scientists say the planet actually wobbled in its orbit.

In the days that followed, people opened their hearts and donated to the American Red Cross. With that generosity, we created the Tsunami Recovery Program, an effort that took the long view towards relief and recovery.

Fast forward to June 2014:

I’m standing on a beach, looking at a beautiful sunset over a placid Indian Ocean near a town in Indonesia most people have never heard of. Calang, in Aceh province, was virtually wiped out by the 2004 quake and tsunami.

But on this clear, warm evening, fishermen tossed nets into the tidal pools and children caught the last few minutes of daylight. The call to prayer echoed from the minarets of nearby mosques.

I had been in Indonesia four days. My assignment: shoot video of the places impacted by the tsunami and capture stories of people whose lives donors helped rebuild. Earlier that day, our group walked through one of Aceh’s central markets — rebuilt by the American Red Cross as part of an effort to restore the local economy.  A chicken vendor told me business is good these days. The stalls are bigger, easier to clean, better to work from.

He says “Thank you.”

Riding along the coastal road, moving up into the hills, the views were breathtaking: vistas of blue ocean and lush green hills at each turn. But people who live by the sea know this scenery has many faces. Beauty is only one.

A decade ago, at CNN, I had a front row seat to one of nature’s worst tragedies, and had the job of trying to describe and define the incomprehensible, mostly to people who were spectators themselves.

Now, I’m in the same places I talked about a decade ago, and I’m still looking for words to describe my thoughts. So many times on this visit, I came up short. Instead, I looked…and listened to the memories of those who actually lived through a deadly drama in which I served as a distant narrator. Sometimes, 10 years on, their descriptions are spoken in the present tense.

I interviewed a couple, Yusnidar and Adnan, as they sat on the porch of their small home. Children and chickens roamed in their small yard at the top of a hillside.

A neighbor told Yusnidar to run for higher ground 10 years ago. Adnan and a friend ran toward the sea, grabbing armfuls of Pompano fish left on the beach as the tsunami pulled water away from the shore. The phenomenon is a telltale sign the worst is about to come.  He was lucky to make it to higher ground. His friend did not.

Today, they look down on the water from their home, and talk about their work as volunteers with the Indonesian Red Cross. They’re proud of their role in helping their community be better prepared for the next time the water would show another face.

I saw the difference donors made in our visits to the big things…like a water treatment plant that provides clean, safe running water to villages that once relied on a mercury-polluted river for their water. And I saw it in the submerged things, like the root balls of mangrove trees that will improve water quality and stem the flow of the next storm surge.

If the big things can overwhelm, it was a series of small evacuation route signs that brought a human perspective.

I saw them everywhere, starting just yards off the beach and well into the lowlands – in the middle of busy business strips and the edges of farmers’ fields. They show one of those international stick figures moving ahead of a curling wave. All the signs point inland, towards the hills…and in some places, they point towards flights of concrete stairs, cut into the steep hillside and through the brush. The way to safety.

Donors helped build those, too.

The Red Cross invested in evacuation stairs, too, so that young and old, mothers weighed down with children, or fathers loaded with bags of clothes or a few days’ food can move faster towards higher ground.

Towards higher ground. Where safety lies. Where the views are. Where the ocean shows its most beautiful face.