In a major public health victory, children’s measles deaths have fallen by 60 per cent since 1999, exceeding the goals of the United Nations, thanks to a new four-part strategy aimed at preventing the spread of the highly contagious disease, UN agencies and their partners have announced.
“This is an historic victory for global public health, for the power of partnership and for commitment by countries to fight a terrible disease,” UN World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan said.
“Reducing measles deaths by 60 per cent in just six years is an incredible achievement, agreed UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director, Ann M. Veneman.
The UN’s original goal was to reduce children’s measles death by half, and success in topping this goal has largely been propelled by gains in Africa where such deaths have been curtailed by an overwhelming 75 per cent.
The results were announced today by a consortium aiming to curb measles deaths called the Measles Initiative, comprising UNICEF, WHO, the UN Foundation, the American Red Cross and the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
WHO data shows that deaths due to measles fell worldwide from approximately 873,000 in 1999 to 345,000 in 2005. In Africa, measles deaths have dropped from 506,000 126,000 in the same time period.
“Our promise to cut measles deaths by half and save hundreds of thousands of lives has not only been fulfilled, it has been surpassed in just six years with Africa leading the way,” Dr. Chan asserted.
A strategy to reduce measles mortality, consisting of four components, has been key to ensuring the massive global decrease in measles deaths, the agencies said. It involves providing one dose of measles vaccine for all infants through routine health services; a second opportunity for measles immunization for all children, generally through mass vaccination campaigns; effective surveillance for measles; and enhanced care, including supplemental vitamin A.
The achievement in Africa is credited to the commitment of national governments as well as the assistance of the Measles Initiative.
“We are winning the fight against measles, which has long killed, sickened and disabled our children,” said Urgain Olanguena Awono, Minister of Public Health of Cameroon. “Our determination is stronger than ever to make measles history by further strengthening our measles control activities, working in concert with our international partners and setting aside resources.”
The UN target of reducing child measles deaths will contribute to achieving one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), eight objectives aiming to slash poverty and other global ills by 2015. Goal number 4 set the target for reducing mortality for children under five years of age by two-thirds.
Ms. Veneman called for continued efforts to battle disease. “We must urgently build on this momentum with integrated community-based health programmes to help save the lives of the over 10 million children who die of preventable causes every year.”