Immunization

Measles deaths plummet

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/HQ03-0189/Pirozzi
A health worker vaccinates a boy against measles, at the Esquadrao Bomboko primary school in Malanje, Angola.

NEW YORK, 4 March 2005 - The number of children dying from measles around the world has been slashed by an estimated 39 percent since 1999. Africa, the region with the highest measles mortality rates, also saw the greatest progress, decreasing their numbers by almost 50 per cent.

UNICEF and the World Health Organisation have announced that countries are on target to halve all deaths from measles by the end of this year.

More than 130 million children are born each year. Millions of them are still at risk from measles – particularly those born in low income countries. Malnourished and un-immunized children under five are extremely vulnerable to being killed by the disease.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/HQ04-0290/Nesbitt
Awadia Alnoor, 12, is vaccinated against measles in Nyala, capital of South Darfur.

The strategy to beat the disease aims to see 90 per cent of all children vaccinated against measles. By learning from the work to combat other diseases, namely polio and neonatal tetanus, a method has been developed to reach children who do not have easy access to a medical centre.  Every three to four years children are offered a ‘second chance’ to be immunized through supplementary immunization activities.

UNICEF’S Senior Project Officer for Immunization Francois Gasse says the reduction of measles deaths can be put down to several factors: continued support from governments, strong partnerships which provide the resources and technical support, effective implementation in the field and sustained implementation in the future.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/HQ04-0676/Pirozzi
Using an auto-disable syringe, a health worker vaccinates Shahriyor, 5, against measles, at a children's polyclinic in south-western Tajikistan.

“There are major lessons learned from this success,” says Gasse. “It does not suddenly happen that the entire population of a country will have access to a health facility. Some countries suffer more than others with very low budgets or poor infrastructure, but in spite of this, you can reach the kids. And that is the major lesson learned. If one day we have an HIV vaccine, we have the means, the strategy and the skills to cover the entire population.”

Gasse insists that although the mortality rates are very encouraging, it is essential that countries keep their eyes on the future and maintain the strategy with extra, focussed campaigns every four or five years. Only then will numbers continue to decrease.


 

 

Video

4 March 2005:
UNICEF’s Rachel Bonham Carter reports on the evidence that countries are on target to halve deaths from measles by the end of 2005.

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