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Measles deaths decreased by more than half

UNICEF Image: Immunization: Measles Initiative partnership
© UNICEF/HQ06-0929/Furrer
A young girl in in Southern Sudan receives a measles vaccination. In the last five years, 350 million children have been vaccinated as a part of the Measles Initiative.

By Jane O’Brien

NEW YORK, USA, 18 January 2007- There has been an unprecedented decline in the number of child deaths from measles, thanks to a worldwide initiative to combat the disease, the Measles Initiative partnership announced today. 

Deaths from measles dropped by more than half between 1999 and 2005, with an estimated 2.3 million additional measles deaths prevented through intensified efforts to vaccinate millions of children. The progress is being hailed as a historic victory for global public health with outstanding success in Africa, where measles deaths have fallen by 75 per cent.

UNICEF Image: Immunization: Measles Initiative partnership
© UNICEF/HQ06-0083/Noorani
Workers load boxes filled with vaccine onto a truck at the main storage facility in Bangladesh.

“Reducing measles deaths by 60 per cent in just five years is an incredible achievement,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman. “Immunizing children is clearly saving lives and contributing to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

“We must urgently build on this momentum with integrated, community-based health programmes to help save the lives of the over 10 million children who die of preventable causes every year,” Ms. Veneman added.

Partnership is key

In 2001 UNICEF joined the World Health Organization (WHO), the American Red Cross, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United Nations Foundation to form the Measles Initiative. Partnership has been a key component of the initiative’s success.

UNICEF Image: Immunization: Measles Initiative partnership
© UNICEF/HQ06-0975/Noorani
A health worker in Bangladesh carefully measures out measles vaccine for children waiting to be innoculated.

“The most important element of this initiative has been the fact that countries have taken ownership in terms of planning, executing and monitoring the activities,” said WHO’s Director of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals, Dr. Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele. “This is important for the sustainability of the initiative because there will be a need for ongoing activities for the next several years.”

It costs around $1 to vaccinate a child against measles. Between 1999 and 2005, more than 360 million children under the age of 15 were immunized as a result of campaigns in 45 priority countries – the majority in Africa. In the same period the total number of deaths from measles fell from 873,000 to 345,000 a year.

But in spite of the Measles Initiative’s success, the disease remains a leading cause of vaccine-preventable deaths among children. Over the coming years, increased attention will be paid to countries in South Asia with large numbers of measles deaths. The new goal is to achieve  a 90 per cent reduction in measles deaths worldwide by 2010.




January 2007:
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Sir Roger Moore on the success of the Measles Initiative.
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