NAIROBI, June 13, 2002 - In an effort to prevent 18,000 infant and child deaths this year alone, Kenya will conduct its first countrywide mass measles vaccination campaign from June 17-23, 2002. The Kenya campaign, with support from the partners in the Measles Initiative, aims to vaccinate nearly 14 million children between the ages of nine months and 14 years, about 40 percent of the country's population.
"This effort could be considered one of the most significant public health campaigns in the history of Kenya in terms of its scope and impact on children's health," said Dr. Mark Grabowsky, senior health advisor of International Services at the American Red Cross. "Our goal is to provide measles vaccine to 100 percent of the country's at-risk children to make sure that each child is protected from this deadly and easily preventable disease."
The campaign will result in the prevention of approximately 18,000 measles deaths annually if all children are reached. Measles, a highly contagious disease, can quickly spread through an inadequately vaccinated community. The disease can kill children directly, or, more often by weakening their immune systems, making them susceptible to a host of other infections. Globally, measles kills nearly 1 million children each year, with 450,000 in African countries alone.
However, measles is completely preventable through administration of an inexpensive vaccine. Currently, 3 out of 4 children in Kenya are adequately vaccinated against measles, but at least 95 percent of children must be protected to markedly reduce measles cases and deaths. This protection can best be achieved through mass campaigns.
Actress Jane Seymour, Celebrity Cabinet member for the American Red Cross and mother of six, will participate in the campaign with eight schoolchildren from Richard Henry Dana Middle School in Hawthorne, California, near Los Angeles. Seymour and the children will travel to Nairobi, Machakos, Kijiado and Amboseli with the Kenyan Red Cross Society to help motivate parents to bring their children to be vaccinated; visit schools and hospitals to talk to children, parents and Kenyan officials about the importance of vaccination; and take part in a documentary about the Measles Initiative.
"I would like to make a personal appeal to the mothers and fathers of America," said Ms. Seymour. "When you put your children to bed tonight-and sing to them-or read their favorite story and watch them drift into a peaceful sleep-think about this. Not only in Kenya, but across Africa, another 1,200 innocent children will have died today as a result of measles - a disease that should have and could have been prevented." Upon her return, Seymour will continue her efforts to support the Measles Initiative.
Through the Kenya campaign, the Measles Initiative is also helping combat other diseases endemic to the region. In 11 Kenyan districts bordering Ethiopia and Somalia-two of just ten countries remaining in the world where polio is still endemic-children will also receive the polio vaccine. In four other Kenyan districts, where a high number of newborns die from neonatal tetanus, mothers will be vaccinated against the disease to protect their infants.
While the overall goals of the campaign are to achieve high vaccination coverage and prevent measles deaths, efforts have been made to make sure that all vaccines are safely administered. Health care workers have received special training to assure the safe delivery of measles and other vaccines. "All measles vaccine is given by injection, we must ensure the highest standard of injection safety throughout this campaign," said Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF. "We will provide adequate supplies of auto-disable syringes, which have been specifically designed so that they can not be used more than once, to prevent any child from getting an infection through poor injection practices."
The Kenya measles campaign marks a major expansion for the initiative and Kenya is the first of nine additional African countries to conduct mass campaigns in 2002. In 2001, the first year for the initiative, more than 20 million children in eight countries were vaccinated, preventing more than 47,000 deaths. The countries were Tanzania, Uganda, Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, Cameroon, Ghana and Benin. This year, the partners anticipate supporting measles vaccination in nine additional countries aiming to immunize 44 million children, preventing an additional 46,000 measles deaths annually. These countries are Ghana, Benin, Cameroon, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Swaziland. Four other countries are prepared to undertake the campaign, dependent on the availability of an additional US$14 million for the Measles Initiative.
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 are the American Red Cross, United Nations Foundation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organization (WHO), and Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). 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 most 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.
To make a financial contribution, call 1-800 HELP NOW or to make a secure online donation, log on to http:www.measlesinitiative.org.
Stacey Grissom, American Red Cross, External Communication, (202) 639-3310 office
Kaia Lenhart, UN Foundation Program Communication Director, (202) 887-9040 office
David Gittelman, CDC, Public Health Advisor, (404) 639-8252 office
Steven Stewart, Communications Specialist, (404) 639-8327 office
Mohammad Jalloh, UNICEF, Communication Officer, (212) 326-7516 office firstname.lastname@example.org
John Fitzsimmons, WHO, Technical Officer, (202) 974-3884