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Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) has committed to raising $30 million for vaccinations by 2017, a sum that partners will match, effectively meaning the initiative will have covered the costs of vaccine shots for 114 million more children. The GAVI-Lions Clubs partnership focuses on support of routine immunisation and strengthening health systems to help prevent serious outbreaks of disease. By 2020, more than 700 million children in 49 countries are expected to be immunised against measles and rubella thanks to the GAVI Alliance and its partners, including Lions.

One of the most recent national immunisation campaigns was held in Botswana in southern Africa, a country of two million people spread over largely flat territory between South Africa, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

At the beginning of November, Botswana’s Lions helped the country’s Ministry of Health with a five-day campaign to reach at least 95 percent of children under five with measles vaccinations, Vitamin A supplements and deworming pills. As with all Lions’ activities, help came not only in the form of charitable donations. In the weeks before the campaign, and all the way through it, Lions across the country pitched in with their time.

LCIF helped fund 3,500 bright orange hats for campaign volunteers, 10,000 posters and 100,000 information flyers to be given out in schools and clinics, training workshops, and ID badges for those helping out on the actual vaccination days. Across the country, Lions helped to hire public address systems, truck trailers and even arrange motorcades of vehicles to take messages about the looming immunisation drive directly to the people.

In Selebi-Phikwe, two teams of Lions including Leo Obakeng Kanthaga went from house to house knocking on doors, reminding families they should take their children to be immunised. “We Lions are known for coming around with a PA system and discussing health messages,” Kanthaga says. “We wanted to go one step further and actually speak one-on-one with mothers on their doorsteps to make sure they understood the importance of the vaccinations.”

To the west, in Maun, the gateway city to Botswana’s famed Kalahari Desert and its wildlife-filled Okavango Delta, Lions invited community elders for lunch to ask them to urge their people to bring their children for immunizations. In Tonota in Botswana’s east, Lions helped pay for a bus to bring families from remote areas to the village so that they did not miss the chance to be vaccinated.

The contributions of Lions were needed because some towns are remote, or roads are poor or flooded for long stretches of the year. Some religions with growing congregations prefer children not to be given modern medicine. These “hard-to-reach” communities need specific approaches to ensure that their children are immunised. Lions worked with priests, for example, to make the procedure acceptable.

Shenaaz El Halabii, the deputy permanent secretary at the Ministry of Health, says simply: “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” to the Lions.

“The team here was absolutely great,” she says. ‘They really took ownership of mobilising people for the campaign, and as a government with resource limitations, the extra mile that we were able to go with the vaccinations was really a lot to do with the Lions Clubs.

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