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Niger measles drive targets 2.9 million under five children

NIAMEY, 7 January 2008 – President Tandja of Niger today kicked off a major campaign to vaccinate 2.9 million children against measles. The week-long integrated National Measles Campaign is moving towards the sustainable control of measles in Niger.

“The overriding goal is to prevent measles deaths and disability and to contribute to give each child of Niger the best start in life,” says Akhil Iyer, UNICEF Representative in Niger.

Before Niger began intensive measles control activities with the first Measles Initiative-supported campaign in 2004/05, measles was a major cause of childhood death and disability. Since 2005, the number of reported measles cases in Niger has decreased from 40,000 cases and 500 deaths in 2003 to 478 cases and four deaths in 2006.

“This campaign is a testimony of the commitment of the Government and a remarkable example of successful partnerships between different players,” says Iyer.

This year’s follow-up campaign is targeting more than 2.9 million children between nine months and five years and aims to give all children under five a second opportunity for measles immunization. An estimated 683,000 children are born every year and, according to the last DHS/MICS survey conducted in 2006, the measles vaccine coverage is at a low 47 per cent which leaves about 360,000 children without protection from the deadly childhood disease each year.

In addition to a shot of the measles vaccine, 2.6 million children aged 12 months to 5 years, will be given a dose of deworming medicine to combat anemia and malnutrition.

This immunization drive is led by the Ministry of Health, with financial and technical support from UNICEF, WHO and a coalition of other Measles Initiative partners.

Nationwide, more than 3800 vaccinators and volunteers are participating in the campaign at fixed and mobile immunization posts in health centers, schools and other public infrastructures.

To ensure the success of the campaign, UNICEF and partners have enlisted the media, traditional and religious leaders and volunteers to reach every family and spread the word about the importance and benefits of the vaccination campaign and where to take their children to get vaccinated.

The campaign costs US$ 2.3 million with international agencies contributing the bulk of the money.  UNICEF, through the generous support of CDC, the United Nations Foundation and Norway, is the largest contributor releasing more than US$ 1.5 million to cover vaccine procurement, syringes for safe injections, safety boxes but also transportation, training and social mobilization.

“This is a huge investment that will pay off for families, communities and the entire nation. Measles has long killed, sickened and disabled far too many children in Niger,” says Dr Khaled Bensaïd, UNICEF Health and Nutrition Chief in Niger.

The Measles Initiative is a partnership committed to reducing measles deaths globally. Launched in 2001, the Initiative— led by the American Red Cross, the United Nations Foundation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, UNICEF and WHO—provides technical and financial support to governments and communities on vaccination campaigns with the aim to reduce and control measles deaths by 90% globally by 2010 compared to 2000.

Globally, measles is still one of the major causes of childhood illness and disability and a leading cause of child death in developing countries, despite the fact that a safe vaccine has been available for many decades which costs less than a dollar per child.

Measles kills over 242,000 worldwide, often from complications related to pneumonia, diarrhoea and malnutrition. Many that survive are left with life-long disabilities: blindness, deafness or brain damage. Measles is a viral respiratory infection that attacks the immune system and is so contagious that any child not immunized will suffer from the disease when exposed.

Between 2000 and 2005 and thanks to the Measles initiative and the commitment of governments, the number of measles deaths was reduced by 91 per cent in Africa and 68 per cent globally. During this period, more than 478 million children received measles vaccine in 46 priority countries, including Niger, and the total number of deaths from measles fell from 873,000 to 242,000 a year.

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, 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.

For further information, please contact:
Gaelle Bausson, UNICEF Niger, +227 20 72 69 97 or +227 96 29 67 51, gbausson@unicef.org




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