WASHINGTON, 8 July 2006 – The government of Kenya has launched a two-phase integrated measles vaccination campaign, targeting more than five million children between nine months and five years of age. In addition to measles vaccinations, the campaign will provide other life-saving health interventions, including polio vaccinations (in select districts), vitamin A and de-worming medicine. Residents in the Nyanza and Western provinces will also receive insecticide-treated nets, proven to be one of the most effective and cost-efficient means of preventing malaria.
The campaign is being supported by the Measles Initiative, a partnership formed to reduce measles deaths in sub-Saharan Africa, which is led by the American Red Cross, United Nations Foundation, World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In addition, the Global Fund on AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has provided long-lasting insecticide treated nets to combat malaria, which is a leading cause of childhood death and disability in Kenya as in many other African countries. The Kenya Red Cross will be working with the government and other partners to educate and mobilize communities.
“The Kenya campaign was accelerated to protect children from a recent measles outbreak, the re-emergence of polio in Somalia, and the effects of a severe drought,” said Per Engeback, UNICEF Regional Director for East and Southern Africa. “The drought led to a food crisis that increased malnutrition in children, making them even more susceptible to measles.”
The first phase of the campaign was moved up to April 29 in response to a measles outbreak that has resulted in approximately 42 deaths over the past six months. Preliminary results from the first phase indicate that the campaign reached more than 95 per cent of the targeted population.
“Kenya’s immunization program sets a good example in disease outbreak response,” said Dr. Luis Gomes Sambo, WHO/AFRO Regional Director. “Upon realizing that the country was facing a serious threat of measles and polio, Kenya promptly responded by launching a commendable two-stage vaccination campaign to protect more than 5 million children.”
Successful control of measles in Kenya depends on improving routine vaccinations of children at nine months of age, plus regular follow-up campaigns such as this one. Before Kenya began intensive measles control activities with a Measles Initiative-supported campaign in 2002, measles was a major cause of childhood death and disability. That campaign successfully reached more than 97 per cent of the target and, since 2002, the number of reported measles cases in Kenya has decreased to fewer than 100 per year, prior to the recent outbreak.
Over a five year period, the Measles Initiative has supported more than 40 African countries in successfully vaccinating 213 million children and saving the lives of an estimated 1.2 million. Through the financial and technical support of the Measles Initiative and the commitment of African governments, measles deaths in Africa fell by 60 per cent between 1999 and 2004. This decline reflects significant progress toward the goal of reducing measles deaths worldwide by 90 per cent by 2010.
*** Background: The Measles Initiative, launched in 2001, is a long-term commitment and partnership among leaders in public health and supports the goal of reducing measles deaths globally by 90 per cent by 2010 compared to 2000. Measles Initiative partners include the American Red Cross, United Nations Foundation, CDC, WHO, and UNICEF.
Largely due to the technical and financial support of the Measles Initiative and the commitment from African governments, more than 200 million children have been vaccinated against measles and an estimated 1.2 million lives have been saved since 2001. Building on this achievement, in 2005, the Initiative expanded its technical and financial support to countries in Asia, where total measles deaths are highest outside of sub-Saharan Africa.
The Initiative will also continue to carry out integrated campaigns in which health workers provide not only measles vaccines, but also other interventions such as insecticide-treated nets for malaria prevention, vitamin A, de-worming medication and polio vaccines.
Since 2001, the Measles Initiative has mobilized more than $200 million and supported more than 40 African countries and three Asian countries to implement high-quality measles vaccination campaigns. As a result of these campaigns, as well as improvements in routine and supplementary immunization activities, global measles deaths have dropped by 48 per cent from 871,000 in 1999 to an estimated 454,000 in 2004. The largest reduction occurred in Africa, the region with the highest burden of disease, where estimated measles cases and deaths have dropped by 60 per cent.
Supporters of the Measles Initiative also include: the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI Alliance), The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Vodafone Group Foundation, Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Japanese International Agency for Cooperation (JICA), Department for International Development of the United Kingdom (DFID), International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (Federation), the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Izumi Foundation, Becton, Dickinson and Company and governments.
Measles is one of the leading vaccine-preventable childhood killers in the world. In 2004, it was estimated that there were 454,000 measles deaths globally-- this translates to more than 1,200 deaths every day or 50 every hour. The overwhelming majority of these deaths, that is 410,000 out of 454,000, are children under the age of five.
A safe and highly effective vaccine has been available for more than 40 years and costs less than US $1, making measles vaccinations one of the most cost-effective public health interventions available for preventing deaths. Despite this, millions of children remain at risk.