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Global Measles Deaths Drop 78%, Resurgence Likely

UNICEF NZ (UN Children’s Fund)

Global Measles Deaths Drop by 78%, But Resurgence Likely

Friday 4 December, 2009. – Measles deaths worldwide have fallen by 78 per cent in the past eight years, but global immunization experts warn of a resurgence in measles deaths if vaccination efforts are not sustained.

According to information released by the Measles Initiative – a partnership between the UN Children’s Fund, WHO, the UN Foundation, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Red Cross – measles deaths dropped from an estimated 733,000 in 2000 to 164,000 in 2008.

UNICEF NZ Executive Director, Dennis McKinlay, says that all regions around the world, with the exception of South-East Asia, have achieved the UN goal of reducing measles mortality by 90 per cent from 2000 to 2010, two years ahead of target.

“Vaccinating nearly 700m children against measles, through large-scale immunization campaigns and increased routine immunization coverage, has prevented an estimated 4.3m measles deaths in less than a decade.

“The significant progress being made to combat measles is pleasing, but with 400 children a day still dying from measles, the possibility of stalled momentum is putting millions more children at risk.”

Mr McKinlay says that measles is among the world’s most contagious diseases and one of the leading causes of death among children worldwide.

“Even healthy and well-nourished children, if unvaccinated, are at risk of the disease and its severe health complications such as pneumonia, diarrhoea, and encephalitis.

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“But in vulnerable populations, such as after a natural disaster or other humanitarian emergency, the disease becomes deadly, which is why the vast majority of measles deaths occur in developing countries. This is why UNICEF was in the wake of the recent Samoa tsunami UNICEF quickly worked with the Samoan Government to organise a nationwide measles immunization campaign that targeted 32,000 children.”

South-East Asia—which includes heavily populated countries such as India, Indonesia and Bangladesh—saw measles deaths decline by only 46 per cent between 2000 and 2008. Delayed implementation of large-scale vaccination campaigns in India, the country with the majority of measles deaths, is largely accountable for this lack of progress. Three out of four children who died from measles in 2008 were in India.

Mr McKinlay says to eliminate the risk of resurgence of what is a completely preventable infection, countries must continue follow-up vaccination campaigns every two to four years until their healthcare systems can provide two doses of measles vaccination to all children and provide treatment for the disease. Reaching the 2010 goal will also require strengthening disease surveillance systems to rapidly detect and control outbreaks.

Meanwhile, the Measles Initiative is tackling a funding gap of NZ$81 million for 2010; if unaddressed, this resource gap could allow for a resurgence of measles deaths. Immunization experts fear the combined effect of decreased political and financial commitment could result in an estimated 1.7 million measles-related deaths between 2010-13, with more than half a million deaths in 2013 alone, compared to 164 000 in 2008.

The Measles Initiative provides technical and financial support to governments and communities on vaccination campaigns and disease surveillance worldwide. The new data on measles mortality are published in the 4 December edition of the World Health Organization’s Weekly Epidemiological Record and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.


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