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UNICEF Executive Director announces new global immunization strategy

The first-ever World Immunization Week takes place from 21-28 April 2012. UNICEF offices around the world are engaging in immunization campaigns and raising awareness about the importance of vaccines to child survival. UNICEF is the world’s largest buyer of vaccines for the world’s poorest countries, and has been supplying vaccines to children for over 50 years.

By Christian Moen

NEW YORK, USA, 25 April 2012 – This week, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, alongside partners in the newly renamed Measles and Rubella Initiative, launched a new global strategy aimed at reducing measles deaths and congenital rubella syndrome to zero.

25 April 2012: UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake delivers a statement on the importance of vaccination, part of the first-ever World Immunization Week. His announcement comes as UNICEF and partners launch a new immunization strategy aimed at reducing measles deaths and rubella syndrome to zero.  Watch in RealPlayer


The announcement coincided with the first-ever World Immunization Week, and was accompanied by new data showing that accelerated efforts have resulted in a 74 per cent reduction in global measles mortality, from an estimated 535,000 deaths in 2000 to 139,000 in 2010.

Eliminating measles and rubella

“I had measles as a child, and it was painful,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “But for 19 million children who are not vaccinated every year, it can be fatal.” 

Every day, measles claims some 380 lives – almost all of them children living in poor communities. 

© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-1238/Modola
A community health worker vaccinates a child during a UNICEF-supported measles and polio immunization campaign in the Ifo refugee camp near the Kenya-Somalia border.

Lake highlighted the important role that vaccines played in achieving the 74 per cent reduction in measles deaths. Through increased routine immunization coverage and large-scale immunization campaigns, Africa made the most progress with an 85 per cent drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2010, according to a new study published in yesterday’s Lancet.

The new strategy aims to make even more progress, cutting global measles deaths by at least 95 per cent by 2015 compared with 2000 levels, and achieving measles and rubella elimination in at least five World Health Organization (WHO) regions by 2020. The strategy includes: high vaccination coverage; monitoring spread of disease using laboratory-backed surveillance; outbreak preparedness and response and measles case management; communication and community engagement; and research and development.

Under the new strategy, 63 countries currently not using rubella vaccines are encouraged to use their measles vaccination delivery system to introduce rubella vaccines into their national immunization schedule, protecting children against both diseases with one combined shot. Many high-income countries already offer routine immunization for both measles and rubella through the use of combined measles-rubella or measles-mumps-rubella vaccine.

© UNICEF India/2011/Halle'n
A local health worker administers measles vaccinations at a school in Gwalior, India.

A need to intensify efforts

The new data underscores that progress in reducing measles deaths was especially strong from 2001 to 2007. However, investment and political commitment to measles control faltered in 2008 and 2009, leaving many children unimmunized. In 2010, an estimated 19 million infants – mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and South-East Asia – did not receive the measles vaccine, and the disease came roaring back, causing large outbreaks in Africa, South-East Asia, Europe and North America.

Large-scale outbreaks in Africa, combined with delayed implementation of measles control activities in India, meant that the goal of reducing measles mortality by 90 per cent by the end of 2010 (compared with 2000 levels) was not met. India accounted for about 47 per cent of global measles deaths in 2010.

Efforts will have to be intensified – and sustained – as the new immunization strategy is rolled out.

Founded originally as the Measles Initiative in 2001, the Measles and Rubella Initiative is led by the American Red Cross, the United Nations Foundation, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UNICEF and WHO.



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