- More than 200 million children in Africa have been vaccinated against measles and both the cases and the resulting deaths have dropped by 60 percent since 1999, saving more than a million lives, the UN's World Health Organisation (WHO) informed today.
"This is a major public health achievement," WHO Director-General Lee Jong-Wook said in a statement. "It is the result of the hard work and dedication of the governments of priority countries with high measles deaths and all our Measles Initiative partners to achieve a common goal – to reduce measles deaths. Let us continue to build on this momentum."
Measles is one of the leading vaccine-preventable childhood killers in the world. In 2003, more than 500,000 people – 470,000 of them children younger than 5 – died from the disease, half of them in Africa alone. A safe and highly effective vaccine has been available for over 40 years and it costs less than US$ 1 to protect a child against the disease.
WHO and its partners in the Measles Initiative are meeting this week in New York. "Fighting measles is key to reducing child deaths," UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman said at the summit. "By expanding this initiative to reach more children and by using measles campaigns to deliver other lifesaving health services, we can save many more lives in the years ahead."
Since 2001 the Measles Initiative has raised more than US$ 144 million and supported over 40 African countries in mounting measles vaccination campaigns, during which every target-aged child in the community is vaccinated against the disease within a few days or weeks.
The initiative's next steps include follow-up vaccination campaigns in Africa, expanding vaccination campaigns into Asia and continuing the successful "integrated child health campaigns", in which health workers provide not only measles vaccines, but also anti-malarial insecticide-treated bed-nets, vitamin A, de-worming medication and polio vaccines.
UN Foundation Chairman Ted Turner announced a US$ 20 million commitment to the Measles Initiative over the next four years, bringing the UN Foundation's support to a total of more than US$ 57 million since 2001. The Foundation began its work on global health with the polio eradication effort and then helped build the anti-measles collaboration based on that infrastructure.
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