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Measles remains a leading cause of death among young children, despite the fact that a safe and effective vaccine has been available for 40 years. It is one of the most contagious diseases known and many non-immune children contract this respiratory disease if exposed to the virus. Measles is an acute illness caused by a virus of the paramyxovirus family. During the first few weeks after contracting measles, a child’s immune system will be compromised, and a normal cold or diarrhoea can become a life threatening disease in developing countries where children have limited or no access to medical treatment.

Key Facts

  • An estimated 450 people, mostly children, die every day from measles despite the fact that an effective and safe vaccine is available at low cost. 
  • It costs less than $1 to vaccinate a child against measles. 
  • In 2008, UNICEF purchased 173 million doses of measles vaccine bundled with safe injection devices.
  • A global goal was set at the World Health Assembly in May 2005 – to reduce measles deaths by 90 per cent by 2010, compared to 2000 data. 
  • Despite global successes in reducing measles deaths, an estimated 164,000 people died from measles in 2008, the latest year for which figures are available.

Measles Mortality Reduction Strategy

The reduction in measles deaths globally reflects support and commitment by the Measles Initiative to boosting immunization coverage and by national governments to following the World Health Organization (WHO)/UNICEF comprehensive strategy for reducing measles mortality. This strategy consists of four key components:

  1. Providing at least one dose of measles vaccine, administered at nine months of age or shortly after, through routine vaccination coverage of at least 90 per cent of children in each district and nationally;
  2. Giving all children a second opportunity for measles vaccination;
  3. Establishing effective surveillance;
  4. Improving clinical management of complicated cases – including vitamin A supplementation.

Updated – January 2010



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