With this week’s campaign to vaccinate 1.3 million children in the West African country of Benin, the United Nation-supported Measles Initiative is in reach of its goal of preventing 1 million deaths from the disease over five years by immunizing 200 million youngsters in more than 40 countries.
“Though we can vaccinate a child against measles for less than one dollar, millions of children still remain at risk,” UN Foundation Chairman Ted Turner said of the disease which, while barely remembered in affluent countries, is one of the leading vaccine-preventable childhood killers in the world.
“The Measles Initiative has dramatically reduced measles’ cases and deaths in Africa. We must build upon the Initiative’s success by expanding our activities into other measles-ravaged areas such as Asia and by incorporating additional life saving tools such as malaria bed nets.”
Launched in 2001, the Initiative partners the UN Foundation, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN World Health Organization (WHO), the American Red Cross and the United States Centres for Disease Control (CDC).
The financial and technical support provided by the Initiative and the commitment of African governments have resulted in an enormous public health success story; measles death have fallen 60 percent between 1999 and 2004 in Africa.
This decline provides important progress toward the UN Millennium Development Goal of reducing the overall under-five mortality rate by two-thirds by 2015. But even so, more than 500,000 people – 470,000 of them children under the age of 5 – still died from the disease in 2003, half of them in Africa alone.
A safe and highly effective vaccine has been available for more than 40 years, costing less than $1, but millions of children still remain at risk.
With the measles campaigns in northern Nigeria and Benin taking place this month, nearly 31 million children will be reached, bringing the total number of vaccinations to more than 200 million.