Fact Sheet Expert Opinion First Person Photo Essay




The Disease:

Measles is a highly contagious viral infection that kills more children than any other vaccine-preventable disease. Children in developing countries who do not have access to adequate health care services are particularly at risk. The virus weakens the immune system and renders children susceptible to fatal complications from diarrhoea, pneumonia, and encephalitis. Children who survive measles can have permanent disabilities, including brain damage, blindness and deafness.


Usually a week to 12 days after the child has been exposed to the virus, the first symptoms appear. They include a runny nose, fever, red eyes, achiness and cough. Tiny white spots may appear on the inside of the mouth. Soon after, a red blotchy rash occurs, lasting up to a week. The rash appears first on the head and face and then spreads to the back, chest, arms and legs.


The measles virus multiplies in the respiratory tract and is transmitted via droplets that are released into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Children can catch the disease by breathing in these droplets, or by coming in contact with the fluids from the infected person’s nose or throat. A person infected with measles can transmit the disease four days before the characteristic rash appears and several days thereafter.


Immunization offers a cost-effective intervention for preventing sufferings, complications and death caused by measles. There are two types of measles vaccines.   The measles vaccines can be given as a single antigen dose or in combination with rubella (MR) or rubella and mumps (MMR). The vaccines are safe, and effective. Infants up to eight months are usually protected from measles by immunity passed on from their mothers. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that the child receive the vaccine between the age of nine and 12 months. Because 10–15% of children will fail to be protected by the first dose, a second dose is recommended to ensure that all children between the age of nine months and 15 years are protected.  While there is no treatment for measles itself, oral rehydration therapy and vitamin A supplements can reduce the severity of the disease.


Reduce measles mortality by 90 per cent by the year 2010 as compared to 2000 levels.


The Response:
In January 2001, UNICEF along with the American Red Cross, the World Health Organization (WHO), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the UN Foundation entered into a partnership and launched the Measles Initiative.  The Intiative seeks to reduce deaths globally, supporting the goal of cutting measles deaths by 90 percent by 2010 as compared to 2000 levels.  UNICEF is the partner responsible for the procurement, distribution and supply of vaccines and related equipment for measles immunization. UNICEF is also the lead agency for the implementation of measles campaigns and for social mobilization along with the American Red Cross. UNICEF works with WHO in the areas of strategy development, consensus building and programme monitoring.


The Measles Mortality Reduction and Regional Elimination: Strategic Plan 2001-2005 provides a framework for guiding and coordinating measles mortality reduction and regional elimination activities at the country, regional and global levels.


Sources: WHO, UNICEF