TEHRAN/ANKARA/GENEVA, 9 December 2003 – UNICEF said today that Iran and Turkey have launched the largest and most ambitious measles campaigns in the world, reaching a combined total of 53 million people over the next year.
The Iranian campaign targets 33 million people between 5 and 25 years of age, all of whom it hopes will be immunized before the new year, while Turkey plans to reach 20 million children aged 9 months to 15 years over the next 12 months. Iran will also introduce the rubella vaccine as a part of its immunization schedule for the first time.
“There is absolutely no reason that children should die or be disabled from measles or rubella when we have simple, effective and inexpensive vaccines,” said Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF. “The Governments of Iran and Turkey have shown commendable leadership in their efforts to eliminate these deadly diseases.”
In Iran, the Ministry of Health is leading the campaign, in close collaboration with other ministries and with the support of UNICEF, World Health Organisation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
The Turkish campaign will start this month with 10 million school children, expanding to 10 million more infants and out-of-school children next year. "We applaud the collaboration between the Ministries of Health and Education in aiming to reach nearly 10 million children in the next two weeks," said Edmond McLoughney, UNICEF Representative in Turkey.
The campaigns in both countries are being financed and implemented by their governments, and will enlist support from the media, health professionals, schools, local communities and parents.
Rubella is also part of the Iran campaign. In countries without rubella vaccination, rubella causes, on average, one per thousand babies to be born with disabilities such as blindness, deafness or serious heart disease. These can all be prevented with rubella vaccination.
Measles is a highly contagious viral infection that kills more children than any other vaccine-preventable disease. The virus weakens the immune system, often killing children because of complications from diarrhoea, pneumonia, and encephalitis. This is particularly true for children in developing countries who do not have access to adequate health care services. Those that survive measles can have permanent disabilities, including brain damage, blindness and deafness.
Although deaths from measles declined nearly two-thirds globally in the last decade, measles killed more than 745,000 children who were not immunized in 2001. The vaccine costs just US$ 0.13.
The campaigns will have long-lasting implications both for children and for strengthening the overall public health system.
"The campaign in Iran provides a unique opportunity to bring life-saving vaccines to children and young people who are traditionally difficult to reach - the hundreds of thousands who are living in high-density urban areas and in the most remote parts of the country," said Kari Egge, UNICEF Representative in Iran. "It will also boost the capacity of Iran's routine immunization programme."
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