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Thu 1 Feb 2007 12:00 AM

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Measles deaths drop sharply across globe

Annual measles deaths have fallen 60% worldwide since 1999, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Annual measles deaths have fallen 60% worldwide since 1999, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). This exceeds the United Nations goal to halve measles deaths between 1999 and 2005 and is largely due to a big decline in measles deaths in the African region.

According to new data from WHO, global measles deaths fell from an estimated 873,000 deaths in 1999 to 345,000 in 2005. In Africa, the progress has been even greater, with measles deaths falling by 75%, from an estimated 506,000 to 126,000. “This is an historic victory for global public health, for the power of partnership and for commitment by countries to fight a terrible disease,” said Dr Margaret Chan, WHO director general. “Our promise to cut measles deaths by half and save hundreds of thousands of lives has not only been fulfilled, it has been surpassed in just six years with Africa leading the way.”

The progress made in reducing measles deaths was announced by the Measles Initiative, a body made up of the United Nations Foundation, UNICEF, the World Health Organisation (WHO), American Red Cross and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The 75% reduction in measles deaths in Africa is described as “a spectacular achievement,” by U Olanguena Awono, minister of public health, Cameroon. “We are winning the fight against measles, which has long killed, sickened and disabled our children. Our determination is stronger than ever to make measles history by further strengthening our measles control activities, working in concert with our international partners and setting aside resources.”

A strategy to reduce measles mortality, consisting of four components, has been key to ensuring the massive global decrease in measles deaths. The strategy calls for the provision of one dose of measles vaccine for all infants via routine health services; a second opportunity for measles immunisation for all children, generally through mass vaccination campaigns; effective surveillance for measles; and enhanced care, including the provision of supplemental vitamin A.

As a result, between 1999 and 2005 global measles immunisation coverage with the first routine dose increased from 71% to 77%, and more than 360 million children aged nine months to 15 years received measles vaccine through immunisation campaigns. The WHO cautions that there is still a long way to go in the fight against one of the world’s most contagious diseases. Of the estimated 345,000 measles deaths in 2005, 90% were among children under the age of five, many dying as a result of complications related to severe diarrhoea, pneumonia and encephalitis.

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