Fighting measles

Couple missionaries strive to immunize millions in Africa

Not long after arriving in Nigeria, Elder Terry Morris and Sister Danne Morris visited the Local Government Area of Ossisioma, where a local health clinic had just experienced a measles outbreak.

Hundreds of thousands of children still die annually from measles in Africa.

"Worried mothers with their babies were jammed into the building ... about twenty mothers were isolated in a separate area holding infected and suffering babies. Already five children had died," Elder Morris recalled.

The Morrises of Alpine, Utah, had accepted short-term service mission assignments to support the national integrated measles and polio immunization campaign carried out in October 2006.

The Morrises, along with the three other Latter-day Saint couples, traveled to Nigeria in July to begin preparing for a 17-state campaign that would culminate in a nine-day immunization "blitz" in early October. A target of 31.8 million children ages 9 months to 15 years was set by the World Health Organization and the Nigerian Government to receive measles vaccinations.

Because of the sheer geographical size of Nigeria and its 145 million citizens, the national campaign had been divided into northern and southern state sectors. The northern states' campaign occurred in December 2005. To provide coverage in the southern states where the Church has a presence and numerous "centers of strength," decisions were made to place five couples in strategic locations: Elder and Sister Morris, Lionel and Donna Benson, Terry D. and Lynne Mills, Lynn and Darlene Holladay, and Doyle and Eulalia Kotter.

Elder and Sister Holladay, who had earlier served in Ghana as temple construction missionaries, reported 600 personal volunteer hours, driving more than 5,000 miles on often questionable roads, and experiencing 10 flat tires in carrying out their assignment in the Ibadan mission.

The Uyo Mission area, where the Kotters worked, enjoyed the leadership of the Uyo Regional Welfare Committee in coordinating the measles effort in a six-stake area. As a result, 1,800 member volunteers logged 61,000 hours of service in just a few weeks' time in the Uyo Region.

The Church influence in the campaign was significant; certainly it is the largest and most comprehensive campaign carried out by the Church to date in a single country. Through a coordinated effort among the couples and local membership, 970,000 handbills were printed and distributed, many of them taken to individual homes by member volunteers; 9,200 posters were printed and placed in public places; 330 banners were created and displayed; and a musical measles "jingle", used earlier in other campaigns, was translated into six local languages and distributed to hundreds of radio stations as public service announcements around the country.

Dr. Charles Korir, a veteran World Health Organization worker from Kenya, and director of the immunization program in Lagos, told a group of 150 volunteers in a training meeting, "If there were three churches in the world like The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the world would be free of measles."

The accounts of outstanding member service during the campaign were numerous.

Brother Kalu Iche Kalu, a former branch president, civil engineer and district public affairs director from Umuaiha, offered to give all of his time through the campaign period, as he had just been released as the chairman of the Abia State Water Board.

In the Uyo welfare region, the Kotters were instrumental in helping priesthood leaders to coordinate the measles efforts, under the direction of stake presidents and called stake campaign chairmen. The Kotters reported: "Almost without exception, every venue we visited, the head nurse came up to us and thanked us over and over for our member volunteers.... They helped direct children to the proper place for registration, polio, vitamin A and measles immunizations. They helped hold children up to be immunized, and they comforted children."

A significant highlight was reported by the Morrises about two members who took it upon themselves to canvass all the areas near their homes in Abia State to make sure that every neighborhood was covered. One young brother, Silas, personally handed out 4,500 fliers over a period of three weeks. He watched to make sure that all in his area were vaccinated, and led the vaccination teams to schools and pockets where hundreds of people had been missed. Another member, Arthur, had a similar experience. The last day of the vaccination campaign Arthur called to report that two remote schools of about 600 students had been missed. The schools were covered later that afternoon by vaccination teams.

The fruits of community service in Nigeria were measured in the millions. The Nigerian Ministry of Health reported a total of 26,353,793 measles immunizations in the nine-day campaign, hitting 83 percent of the 31.8 million target originally set for the campaign.

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