- Africa is four years ahead of achieving the United Nations goal to cut measles deaths by 90%. Between 2000 and 2006, measles deaths in the continent fell by 91% [from 396,000 to 36,000].
Africa's spectacular gains helped to generate a strong decline in global measles deaths.
The news was disclosed by the founding fathers of the Measles Initiative. This included the American Red Cross (ARC), UNICEF, WHO and the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
"This is a major public health success and a tribute to the commitment of countries in the African region," the WHO Director General, Dr. Margaret Chan, said. "We need to sustain this success and intensify our efforts in other parts of the world, as there are still far too many lives lost to this disease."
Africa's significan decline in measles deaths was the result of the firm commitment of national governments for their full implementation of the measles reduction strategy, which includes vaccinating all children against the disease before their first birthday through routine health services and providing a second opportunity for measles vaccination through mass vaccination campaigns.
"The clear message from this achievement is that the strategy works," said CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding. "The next step is to fully implement this strategy in South Asia, where measles disease burden is now the highest in the world."
Mass vaccination campaigns have had a major impact on reducing global measles deaths. From 2000 to 2006, an estimated 478 million children aged nine months to 14 years received measles vaccine through campaigns in 46 out of the 47 priority countries severely affected by the disease.
In 2006, global routine measles vaccination coverage reached an estimated 80 percent for the first time, up from 72% in 2000. The largest improvements in vaccination coverage were in the African and the Eastern Mediterranean regions.
"The dramatic drop in measles deaths in Africa and the strong progress being made worldwide are a testament to the power of strong partnerships and the impact they can have on child survival," said Ann M. Veneman, Executive
Director of UNICEF. "But measles is still killing nearly 600 children under five every day, an unacceptable reality when we have a safe, effective, and inexpensive vaccine to prevent the disease."
Despite the success, major challenges are still needed so that the global cut by 90% in 2010 would be attained.
Currently, about 74% of measles deaths occur in South Asia, with India and Pakistan recording the highest numbers.
Countries that implemented accelerated measles control activities have been advised to sustain the gains by continuously conducting followu-up vaccination activities every two or four years until their routine immunization systems are capable of providing measles vaccination to all children.
"Through the tireless efforts of millions of health workers and volunteers from our Red Cross and Red Crescent family, as well as our dedicated partners, such as the Latter-day Saints, we literally go door-to-door informing, educating and motivating mothers and caregivers about the critical need to vaccinate their children," said Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, the board Chairman of the ARC.
"These mobilization efforts are essential for our success, helping us consistently reach more than 95% of the vulnerable population and saving countless lives."
The strong support of the Measles Initiative was a key contributin factor of reducing measles deaths. Since its launch in 2001, the initiative has supported vaccination efforts in over 50 countries and mobilized more than US $470 million.
"The successful reduction of measles deaths would not be possible without the collaborative work among many partners -- including governments, the United Nations, NGOs, corporations and volunteers from local communities - each of which bring unique strengths and resources that are essential for success," said Kathy Calvin, Executive
Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, UN Foundation.
"We commend our partners for coming together to protect children around the world from measles."
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