More than 5 million Kenyan children between nine months and five years of age are being vaccinated against measles in a two-phase United Nations-backed integrated campaign that is also providing polio immunizations and insecticide-treated nets against malaria in some districts as well as vitamin A and de-worming medicine.
“The Kenya campaign was accelerated to protect children from a recent measles outbreak, the re-emergence of polio in Somalia, and the effects of a severe drought,” UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Regional Director for East and Southern Africa Per Engeback said. “The drought led to a food crisis that increased malnutrition in children, making them even more susceptible to measles.”
The Government campaign, the first phase of which was launched in April after an outbreak infected 1,600 people, 42 of them fatally, is being supported by the Measles Initiative, a partnership led by the American Red Cross, UN Foundation, UN World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Kenya’s immunization programme sets a good example in disease outbreak response,” WHO/AFRO Regional Director Luis Gomes Sambo said. “Upon realizing that the country was facing a serious threat of measles and polio, Kenya promptly responded by launching a commendable two-stage vaccination campaign to protect more than 5 million children.”
Before Kenya began intensive measles control activities with a Measles Initiative-supported campaign in 2002, the disease was a major cause of childhood death and disability. That campaign successfully reached more than 97 per cent of the target and, since 2002, the number of reported measles cases in Kenya has decreased to fewer than 100 per year, prior to the recent outbreak.
Over a five year period, the Measles Initiative has supported more than 40 African countries in successfully vaccinating 213 million children and saving the lives of an estimated 1.2 million.
Through the Initiative’s financial and technical support and the commitment of African governments, measles deaths in Africa fell by 60 per cent between 1999 and 2004. This decline reflects significant progress toward the goal of reducing measles deaths worldwide by 90 per cent by 2010.