There is some good news this week from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). They announced that there is almost a 50% drop of measles death in the last five years worldwide. This is attributed to the successful vaccination programme being undertaken in developing countries. Measles is a vaccine-preventable condition. Global measles deaths have come down 39%, from 873 000 in 1999 to an estimated 530 000 in 2003.The largest reduction has occurred in Africa, which had the highest burden of the disease.
"Progress of this magnitude is remarkable. I congratulate countries for their successful efforts in protecting children from measles," said Dr LEE Jong-wook, WHO Director-General. "I am certain that with increased commitment from governments and further support from the international community, even more can be accomplished."
Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF added "In many places where families once lived in fear of losing their children to measles, they're now protected by an effective and inexpensive vaccine,"
This dramatic decline in measles deaths hyas been possible thanks to the commitment of many governments to fully implement the WHO/UNICEF strategy and initiative for sustainable measles mortality reduction.
The report mentioned that measles had so far been an important cause of childhood deaths. It was only a decade ago that measles killed millions of children every year and affected almost 30 million more, leaving many with life-long disabilities like blindness and brain damage.
"We now have the opportunity to replicate this successful model as we tackle other child killers such as malaria," Bellamy said, noting that in late 2004, Togo's children received four life-saving interventions at once. The report noted that the landmark campaign reached over 95% of the children under-five with vaccines to prevent measles and polio, mosquito nets to prevent malaria and de-worming tablets.
The WHO strategy seeks to achieve routine measles immunization coverage of at least 90% in every district and to ensure that every child from nine months to 14 years of age receives a "second opportunity" for measles immunization through routine services or supplementary immunization activities (SIAs) every three to four years. The vast majority of measles deaths are found in low-income countries. Each year more than 130 million children are born and "we must reach each and every one with measles vaccination," said Dr Lee.
Joint news release WHO/UNICEF
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