WHO/UNICEF Press Release WHO/16
29 March 2001
UN AGENCIES LAUNCH NEW PLAN TO HALVE MORTALITY OF MEASLES, A MAJOR CHILDHOOD KILLER
GENEVA/NEW YORK – In a concerted move against one of the world’s deadliest childhood diseases, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) today announced a new initiative designed to halve global measles deaths by 2005.
"Measles is still a major childhood killer, with over 30 million cases and nearly 900 000 annual deaths in recent years. These figures are even more shocking given the fact that effective immunization, which includes vaccine and safe injection equipment, costs just US$ 0.26 and has been available for more than 30 years," said Dr Bjørn Melgaard, Director of Vaccines and Biologicals, WHO.
Measles accounts for the majority of the estimated 1.6 million annual deaths due to childhood vaccine-preventable diseases. Failure to deliver at least one dose of measles vaccine to all infants remains the primary reason for the high incidence and mortality rates of measles.
The Global Measles Strategic Plan calls on countries to assess progress on measles control, identify reasons for low routine coverage, develop a three to five year plan for measles mortality reduction and fully implement the recommended strategies.
The plan has been developed by UNICEF and WHO in cooperation with the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), numerous experts worldwide and several other partners. It has the advantage of being a flexible framework that can be adapted to the specific needs and immediate goals of individual countries.
Under the new initiative, WHO and UNICEF will assist affected countries to:
1. Provide a first dose of measles vaccine to all infants.
2. Guarantee a "second opportunity" for vaccination to increase the probability that as
many children as possible are immunized and to assure that those immunized are
responding to the vaccination.
3. Establish an effective system to monitor coverage and conduct measles surveillance.
4. Improve management of complicated measles cases, including vitamin A
Near blanket coverage is crucial for containing the disease. "Because measles is so contagious and because a small number of those who are vaccinated do not develop immunity, vaccination coverage levels need to be above 90% to stop measles deaths. Unfortunately, this goal has not yet been achieved in all countries," said Dr Suomi Sakai, UNICEF’s Chief of Immunization Activities. "But we know we can get there," she added.
Measles, a viral disease, is spread by infected droplets during sneezing and coughing, through direct contact with nasal or throat secretions of infected persons or by touching contaminated objects. It is predominantly a disease of childhood, causing fever and rash and is sometimes complicated by ear infections, pneumonia, or encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) which can result in convulsions, deafness, mental retardation or death.
In addition to the compelling humanitarian and health reasons, the economic arguments for investing in measles control are convincing. Of all health interventions, measles immunization carries the highest health return for the money spent, saving more lives per unit than most other health interventions.
In 1999, measles coverage below 50% was reported by 14 countries, most of them in Africa. The list includes Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Madagascar, Niger, Senegal, Somalia, and Togo.
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