Having traveled to over 70 countries, I know there’s one common item on nearly every explorer’s to-do list: vaccinations. Depending on the destination, vaccinations can minimize travelers’ risks of illness or death and can prevent travelers from being infected while abroad or bringing disease back home.
A critical cure
At the American Red Cross, we view vaccines as a humanitarian imperative, a boost to local economies and a way to keep Americans healthy at home and abroad. As a result, we’ve invested tens of millions of dollars into one of the most cost-effective health interventions: the measles and rubella vaccines.
The American Red Cross is a founding member of the Measles and Rubella Initiative — alongside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Foundation and UNICEF — which has vaccinated more than 2 billion children against the viruses since 2001.
Prior to launching the global vaccination initiative, more than 700,000 children died each year from measles, a preventable disease. From 2000 to 2015, measles vaccination efforts saved an estimated 20.3 million lives.
Healthy children, happy parents
The numbers are startling, but the human element is just as rewarding. In my time at the Red Cross, I’ve watched children receive the measles vaccine in Indonesia, Madagascar and Kenya. Often, kids cry as the needle approaches, but it’s the parents’ thanks that I’ll never forget because they know that vaccines protect their children against disabling diseases and even death.
In low-income countries, it costs $1 to vaccinate a child against measles. Every $1 invested in the measles vaccine yields $58 in savings by averting illness and disabilities. This return on investment provides more resources to strengthen local health care systems and respond to other health crises. We often hear from parents that when their children are immunized, mom and dad spend less time caring for sick kids and more time earning money to take care of their family and enhance the local economy.
A global community
And we don’t often consider how international travelers being vaccinated protects us at home, but it does. In this interconnected world, infectious diseases are just one plane ride away from the United States. Being vaccinated not only protects the traveler — it also protects his or her community.
So when you make your next international travel reservation and check for needed shots, know that children around the globe are getting similar shots which can literally save their lives and make a world of difference to their parents, their country and even here in the United States.
David Meltzer, Chief International Officer, American Red Cross, [email protected]