NEW YORK / GENEVA, 5 December 2002 - A comprehensive measles immunization strategy could prevent more than 2 million child deaths in Africa this decade, bringing the death toll from measles on the continent close to zero. UNICEF and WHO made this encouraging announcement at a recent board meeting of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI).
Of all the vaccine-preventable diseases, measles is still the leading cause of child death in many developing nations. Every year, measles affects over 30 million children and claims the lives of nearly 800,000 – more than half of them in Africa. The new immunization strategy has been extremely effective in a block of seven southern African countries. Through this strategy Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe have reduced measles deaths to near zero since the year 2000.
“We have the opportunity to save more than 2 million young lives using a proven strategy,” said Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF and Chair of the GAVI board. “Measles immunizations have saved over 130,000 children in Africa this year. We must now build on this success and ensure that every child is adequately vaccinated and protected against measles.”
The GAVI board endorsed the WHO/UNICEF comprehensive measles immunization strategy to achieve a sustainable reduction in measles deaths. This strategy provides children with two opportunities to receive the measles vaccine. The first vaccination is given at 9 months of age through the country's routine immunization delivery system, and a second through supplementary immunization campaigns conducted every 3-4 years to ensure that every child is reached.
“The child death toll from measles – a completely preventable disease – is unacceptable. GAVI’s mandate is to increase children’s access to vaccines, and measles vaccine is a proven life saver,” said Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of the WHO and a GAVI board member. “But a comprehensive measles immunization strategy requires sustained funding. I encourage the GAVI partners to do their utmost to fund this important strategy.”
WHO and UNICEF currently estimate an additional US$ 200 million will be required to implement the comprehensive measles strategy. The funds would pay for the vaccines, safe injection materials, refrigeration equipment, transportation and personnel to support both the routine immunisation activities and the supplementary measles campaigns in the African region from 2003-2010.
“Reducing measles deaths – which are completely preventable through vaccination– is of particular concern to GAVI, as almost all of these deaths occur in the 74 countries eligible for GAVI funding,” said Dr Tore Godal, GAVI’s Executive Secretary.
GAVI fully supports the UN goals related to measles prevention. These include the UN Special Session on Children resolution to reduce measles deaths by 50% by the year 2005, as well as the UN Millennium Development Goals, which include the target to reduce the under-five mortality rate by two thirds. The proportion of one-year-old children immunized against measles is a key indicator for measuring the achievement of these goals.
Reducing measles deaths to zero is the objective of the Measles Initiative, a broad-based partnership co-ordinated by the American Red Cross and including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UN Foundation, UNICEF, WHO, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), governments, civil society and the private sector. In 2001 and 2002, the Measles Initiative has delivered measles vaccine to over 70 million children in 16 African countries.
The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) was formed in 1999 as a public-private partnership focused on increasing children's access to vaccines. GAVI has revitalized immunization programmes by coordinating key partner efforts, re-focusing the world’s attention on immunization, stimulating public/private partnerships, improving strategies for research and development. The GAVI partnership includes the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, the World Bank Group, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and representatives of more than 50 governments, non-governmental organizations, research and public health institutions, foundations and the vaccine industry.
For more on GAVI see www.vaccinealliance.org.
For more on the measles initiative, see http://www.measlesinitiative.org/
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