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Eliminating measles, rubella and tetanus

© UNICEF/Iraq/Khuzaiel
A health worker administers a dose of oral polio vaccine to a boy in the Bajeed Kandala camp, a refuge for displaced Yazidis, near the town of Peshkhabour, Iraq.


Measles, rubella and maternal and neonatal tetanus can be prevented by vaccines and yet continue to afflict children around the world. UNICEF is committed to eliminating these fatal diseases.

Measles and rubella

Measles, a virus that attacks the respiratory tract, is one of the most contagious diseases known and is a leading cause of death among children. Measles is life threatening in low-income countries where children have limited or no access to medical treatment and are often malnourished.

Measles outbreaks are particularly deadly during emergency settings in communities experiencing, or recovering from, conflict or natural disaster. Children are especially vulnerable to deadly infections – 367 children die from measles every day, despite the availability of a safe, effective and affordable vaccine. Measles survivors are often left with life-long disabilities, such as blindness, deafness or brain damage.

The success of measles vaccination has been dramatic. Since 2000, an estimated 20.3 million child deaths have been prevented through measles immunization. In 2015, approximately 85 per cent of children around the world were immunized with one dose of measles vaccine.

Rubella is usually a mild infection, but for women during early pregnancy, rubella can seriously affect the foetus, resulting in miscarriage and the combination of disabilities collectively called congenital rubella syndrome (CRS), which includes heart disease, blindness and deafness.

UNICEF, with international and governmental support, is helping to improve coverage for routine measles immunization, and conducting regular campaigns in the high-risk regions of Africa and Asia. Thanks to the work of UNICEF and its partners in both the Measles & Rubella Initiative and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, 149 countries have introduced rubella vaccination.

Read more about the Measles & Rubella Initiative

Maternal and neonatal tetanus

A swift, painful – and entirely preventable – killer, neonatal tetanus in still present in nearly 25 countries. In some places, not all pregnant women are vaccinated and in others, women must deliver and care for their newborns in unhygienic conditions, making them vulnerable to infection.

Tetanus is called the “silent killer” as many newborns and mothers affected by the disease die at home, and neither the birth nor the death are reported or registered.

Momentous progress has been made in eliminating maternal and neonatal tetanus. Simple, proven and high-impact interventions like vaccination have helped drastically reduce newborn tetanus deaths.

In 2000, the lives of an estimated 200,000 newborns were lost to tetanus annually. Today, thanks to immunization and improved medical care before, during and after birth, that number has been reduced to 58,000 each year. Since 1999, 35 of 59 high-priority countries – all of them classified as low and middle income –have successfully eliminated maternal and neonatal tetanus.

Preventing all newborn and maternal deaths from tetanus is feasible – provided sustained financial resources and strong political commitment. Currently, UNICEF’s maternal and neonatal tetanus elimination initiative is nearly entirely funded by corporate partners such as Pampers and Becton Dickinson, and by civil society organization Kiwanis International.



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