United Nations agencies today announced a global reduction of 30 per cent in measles deaths between 1999 and 2002, proving that by acting collectively to reach the world’s poorest children countries can achieve the UN goal of halving the toll of the leading vaccine-preventable killer of children by the end of 2005.
At 35 per cent, the reduction was even greater in Africa, the region with the highest number of people affected by the disease, thanks in large part to the Africa Measles Partnership comprising, among others, the UN World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), national governments, the American Red Cross, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the UN Foundation.
“This is great news. Countries are to be commended for their efforts to fight measles – efforts that are truly paying off,” UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said in New York, noting that since 1999, almost 260,000 deaths per year have been prevented. “But we have to keep up the work and the funding as still far too many children’s lives are lost to measles.”
Recent progress is due to the adoption by the most affected countries of the comprehensive WHO/UNICEF strategy for sustainable measles mortality reduction, based on achieving at least 80 per cent routine immunization in every district and ensuring that all children get a second opportunity either through routine services or periodic Supplemental Immunization Activities (SIAs) every three to four years.
Under SIAs every child from nine months to five years of age is immunized over a one- to two-week period. The estimated annual cost for measles mortality reduction activities in the 45 so-called high burden countries is approximately $140 million.
“Countries have proven that routine immunization and supplemental measles immunization will reduce measles deaths. This is an extremely important step,” WHO Director-General Lee Jong-wook said in a news release in Geneva. “Now WHO encourages all high-burden countries to implement these strategies, and stands ready to help.
“However success also requires more resources, and a long-term commitment of leaders to permanently reducing measles deaths,” he added.