Africa leads a dramatic decline in measles deaths

By Henry Neondo

An ambitious five year global immunization drive has cut measles deaths in Africa by 60 percent the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced Thursday.

“This is an outstanding public health success story,” said Dr LEE Jong-wook, WHO Director-Genera over the success of a campaign that began in 1999 and ran to 2004.
“If progress continues at this rate, the global goal to cut measles deaths by half will have been achieved on time.”

A key factor contributing to progress in reducing measles deaths has been the strong support of the Measles Initiative.

Since 2001, the Initiative has supported vaccination efforts in over 40 African countries and raised more than US $150 million with help from partners such as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization.

Measles is one of the most contagious diseases known and remains a major killer of children in the developing world.

Although a safe, effective and inexpensive vaccine has been available since the 1960s, an estimated 410 000 children under age five died from measles in 2004, often from complications related to severe diarrhoea and pneumonia.

Many who survive are left with lifelong disabilities including blindness and brain damage. Weak immunization systems that are unable to deliver measles vaccine to young children remain the primary reason for countries still experiencing high measles deaths.

Global deaths due to measles fell by 48%, from 871 000 in 1999 to an estimated 454 000 in 2004, thanks to major national immunization activities and better access to routine childhood immunization, the agencies said. These measles mortality data, calculated by WHO, are the latest available.


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