We’re building a new UNICEF.org.
As we swap out old for new, pages will be in transition. Thanks for your patience – please keep coming back to see the improvements.

Press centre

Press release

Measles deaths drop dramatically as vaccine reaches world's poorest children

Global goal of halving measles deaths can be achieved

GENEVA / NEW YORK, 28 April 2004 –  The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nation's Children's Fund (UNICEF) today announced a global reduction of 30% in deaths from measles between 1999 and 2002.  At 35%, the reduction in measles deaths was even greater in Africa, the region with the highest number of people affected by the disease. 

This progress demonstrates that collectively countries can achieve the United Nations goal of cutting global measles deaths in half by the end of 2005.

The news comes as countries take part in Vaccination Week in the Americas (April 24-30). During the week millions of people will be immunized, with a focus on children, women and the elderly and those people living in rural border regions.  

Despite the availability of a safe, effective, inexpensive vaccine for over 40 years, measles remains the leading vaccine-preventable killer of children.

In 1999, the benchmark year, some 869 000 people – mostly children – died of measles.  In 2002*, measles killed  an estimated 610 000 people, a decline of 30%. 

"This is great news. Countries are to be commended for their efforts to fight measles-- efforts that are truly paying off,” said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy. Since 1999, almost 260 000 deaths per year have been prevented, she noted. "But we have to keep up the work and the funding as still far too many children's lives are lost to measles."

Recent progress is due to the adoption by the most affected countries of the comprehensive WHO/UNICEF strategy for sustainable measles mortality reduction. At a WHO/UNICEF meeting in Cape Town, South Africa in October 2003, Ministry of Health representatives from 45 high-burden countries agreed that this strategy was highly effective in reducing measles deaths in a sustainable fashion.

The strategy is based on achieving at least 80% routine measles immunization coverage in every district, and ensuring that all children get a second opportunity for measles immunization either through routine services or periodic Supplemental Immunization Activities (SIAs) every three to four years, whereby every child from nine months to five years of age is immunized over a one to two week period.
The SIAs have proven especially effective.  While routine measles coverage remained relatively constant at approximately 73% over the period 1999-2002, more than 145 million children in 21 of the 45 high-burden countries were vaccinated against measles through SIAs in that same period of time.

“Countries have proven that routine immunization and supplemental measles immunization will reduce measles deaths. This is an extremely important step. Now WHO encourages all high-burden countries to implement these strategies, and stands ready to help," said Dr LEE Jong-wook, WHO Director-General. “However success also requires more resources, and a long term commitment of leaders to permanently reducing measles deaths." 

The estimated annual cost for measles mortality reduction activities in the 45 high burden countries is approximately US $140 million per year.

An important factor in the 35% decrease in measles deaths in Africa has been the strong support of the Africa Measles Partnership which has rapidly implemented the WHO/UNICEF strategy Starting in 2001, this partnership, with core membership of national governments,  WHO, UNICEF, the American Red Cross, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States Department of Health and Human Services and the United Nations Foundation, committed itself to funding and implementing large-scale measles SIAs reaching over 90% of all children in targeted African countries.

Other key partners include the governments of Australia, Canada and Japan as well as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

*2002 is the latest year for which data are available. Data for 2003 will be available in the last quarter of  2004.

* * * *
For further information, please contact:

Mohammad Jalloh, UNICEF Media, New York, 212 326 7516,
Wivina Belmonte, UNICEF Geneva, 41 22 909 5712,
Melinda Henry, WHO Geneva, 41 22 791 2535

For nearly 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 158 countries to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for poor countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.




Audio interview

Listen to an interview with Edward Hoekstra, UNICEF's Coordinator for the Global Measles Campaign.

Audio clip ([mp3]; right-click to download)

New enhanced search