More than 20 million Bangladeshi children will be vaccinated against measles over the next two weeks as part of a campaign backed by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to try to eradicate the deadly disease in the South Asian nation.
An estimated 50,000 health-care workers and 600,000 volunteers and non-governmental organization (NGO) staff have been recruited for the immunization project, which began yesterday and is slated to run until 28 February.
All Bangladeshi children aged between nine months and five years will be given the measles vaccine while all children under the age of five will also be given two drops of the polio vaccine, UNICEF said in a press release issued on Saturday.
This will be the first major nationwide campaign against measles in Bangladesh since 2005-06, when about 35 million children were vaccinated.
The number of measles outbreaks in the South Asian nation has fallen sharply since then, with only one occurring in each of the last two years, compared with 27 in the first two months of 2006.
But UNICEF officials said that about 25 per cent to a third of young children remain at risk, especially those born since the last immunization campaign. Children who already received a vaccine will receive a second dose, which is recommended to ensure full immunization.
Carol de Rooy, the agency's representative in Bangladesh, said these kinds of mass vaccination campaigns can produce significant reductions in death and disease rates.
“It is unfortunate that measles continues to kill children when such avoidable deaths can easily be prevented through immunization,” she said. “I call on all the parents to bring their children to the immunization sites so they will be protected against this child-killer disease.”
Duangvadee Sungkhobol, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Bangladesh, said measles remains the leading cause of vaccine-preventable childhood death and disability.
“Maintaining good immunization coverage and conducting periodic follow-up campaigns reduces measles cases and deaths considerably,” Dr. Sungkhobol said.
UNICEF and WHO adopted a joint global plan in 2001 for reducing the number of deaths from measles and the objective for Bangladesh is to cut measles mortality by 90 per cent by this year in comparison with 2000.
Caused by a virus, measles is highly contagious and produces high fever and a rash among sufferers, who are most likely to be young children. People who recover from measles are immune for the rest of their lives, but in 2008 an estimated 164,000 people – nearly all children under the age of five – died from the disease.