Sidney Poitier and Sherry Lansing to join trip to celebrate 1 million lives saved through vaccinationsWASHINGTON, December 12, 2005 — The Benin campaign will mark the culmination and success of the Measles Initiative’s original goal of reducing measles deaths by vaccinating 200 million children in more than 40 countries, and preventing 1 million children from dying from measles over five years.
The financial and technical support provided by the Measles Initiative and the commitment of African governments have resulted in an enormous public health success story; measles death have fallen 60 percent between 1999 and 2004 in Africa. This decline provides important progress toward the Millennium Development Goal of reducing the overall under-five mortality rate by two-thirds by 2015.
Measles Initiative partners the American Red Cross, UN Foundation, CDC, UNICEF and WHO will support Benin’s efforts in vaccinating 1.3 million children, ultimately saving nearly 2,000 lives during the week of December 12-18. Measles vaccinations, mebendazole (de-worming medicine) and vitamin A to boost immune systems will be distributed free of charge. With the measles campaigns in northern Nigeria and Benin taking place this month, nearly 31 million children will be reached bringing the total number of vaccinations to more than 200 million.
“I’m going to Africa to learn about the struggles of Benin’s families, particularly as it relates to measles and children’s health. I feel a connection to children in Africa, since I grew up in a rural setting without the comforts of modern life,” said acclaimed actor and director Sidney Poitier. “I’m indebted to the Red Cross for allowing me to tag along this week as they continue in their praiseworthy efforts at helping to save lives and bring hope whenever possible, wherever it is needed.”
Measles, a disease barely remembered by most Americans, is one of the leading vaccine-preventable childhood killers in the world. In 2003, more than 500,000 people – 470,000 of them children under the age of 5 – died from the disease. Half of these deaths were in Africa alone. A safe and highly effective vaccine has been available for more than forty years, and it costs less than US $1 to protect a child against measles. Despite this, millions of children still remain at risk.
“Though we can vaccinate a child against measles for less than one dollar, millions of children still remain at risk," said UN Foundation Chairman Ted Turner. "The Measles Initiative has dramatically reduced measles’ cases and deaths in Africa. We must build upon the Initiative’s success by expanding our activities into other measles-ravaged areas such as Asia and by incorporating additional life saving tools such as malaria bed nets. Sydney Poitier’s assistance at this stage of the campaign will shine a light on this preventable global health crisis; we are very grateful.”
Next steps for the Measles Initiative include additional ‘follow-up’ vaccination campaigns in Africa, expanding vaccination campaigns to high measles-burden countries in Asia, and continuing the successful “integrated child health campaigns” in which the Measles Initiative distributes not only measles vaccines, but also insecticide-treated bed-nets (for malaria prevention), vitamin A, de-worming medication, and polio vaccines.
Launched in February 2001, the Measles Initiative is a long-term commitment to control measles deaths in Africa by vaccinating 200 million children and preventing 1.2 million deaths over five years. Leading this effort is the American Red Cross, United Nations Foundation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the World Health Organization (WHO). Other key players in the fight against measles include the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and countries and governments affected by measles.
While the Measles Initiative is focused in Africa where the majority of measles-related deaths occur, partners also work on a wide-range of health initiatives around the world, including measles control and other vaccination services outside of Africa.
For more information about the Measles Initiative, log on to www.measlesinitiative.org.
For more information, please contact:
Julie Irby, American Red Cross, Washington, DC +1 202 439 0722
Carrie Martin, American Red Cross, Washington, DC +1 202 303 4459 and in Benin 9916 2145 8908
Elizabeth Alexander, UNF, Washington, DC +1 202 778 1622
Erica Kochi, UNICEF New York +1 212 326 7785
Zorodzai Machekanyanga, WHO Regional Office for Africa, +263 4 706951
Steven Stewart, CDC, Atlanta +1 404-639-8327