A recent measles outbreak in eastern and southern Africa has killed more than 700 people, threatening to reverse gains made over several years to stem the disease, the United Nations said on Friday.
"As of mid-June 2010, the outbreak has affected 47,907 children in 14 countries, resulting in 731 deaths. The most recent confirmed measles outbreaks were reported from Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia," a statement said.
The worst-hit country is Zimbabwe with 517 reported deaths.
The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation warned the outbreak "has put recent gains in reducing mortality due to this highly contagious disease at risk of being reversed."
The statement said that control strategies, including routine immunisations, recommended by the two UN agencies in recent years needed to be more rigorously implemented.
"The current wave of measles outbreaks comes as a result of gaps in the implementation of the control strategies. These gaps have been caused by inadequate financial commitments from governments and partners," it said.
"Measles are easily preventable. In order to sustain our efforts and successes in combating the disease, we urgently need to fill the funding gaps. Otherwise, we will again see more measles deaths in the near future," said UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Elhadj As Sy.
Measles can cause severe complications such as pneumonia, diarrhoea and encephalitis.