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Global measles deaths drop by 74%

Eastern Mediterranean region achieves measles goal three years early

Joint News Release WHO/UNICEF/American Red Cross/CDC/UN Foundation

4 December 2008 | ATLANTA/GENEVA/NEW YORK/WASHINGTON –- Measles deaths worldwide fell by 74% between 2000 and 2007, from an estimated 750 000 to 197 000. In addition, the Eastern Mediterranean region*, which includes countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Sudan, has cut measles deaths by a remarkable 90% during the same period. By reducing measles deaths from 96 000 to 10 000, the region has achieved the United Nations goal to reduce measles deaths by 90% by 2010, three years early.

The progress was announced today by the founding partners of the Measles Initiative: the American Red Cross, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United Nations Foundation (UN Foundation), UNICEF and WHO. The data will be published in the 5 December edition of WHO’s Weekly epidemiological record and CDC’s Morbidity and mortality weekly report.

"This achievement is a tribute to the hard work and commitment of countries in the Eastern Mediterranean region to combat measles" said Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General. "With only two years until the 2010 target date, I urge all countries affected by measles to intensify their efforts to immunize all children against the disease."

The significant decline in measles deaths in the Eastern Mediterranean region was the result of intensified vaccination campaigns including several countries with hard-to-reach areas. In 2007, more than twice the number of children were immunized in the region through such campaigns as compared to 2006.

Role of health workers and volunteers

"There are thousands of health workers and volunteers from our Red Cross and Red Crescent family who deserve much of the credit for this success. They give their time to literally go door-to-door informing, educating and motivating mothers and caregivers about the critical need to vaccinate their children," said Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, Chairman of the Board of the American Red Cross. "This mobilization helps us to consistently reach more than 90% of the vulnerable population and save countless lives."

The African region was the largest contributor to the global decline in measles deaths, accounting for about 63% of the reduction in deaths worldwide over the eight-year period. In 2007, measles outbreaks occurred in a number of African countries due to gaps in immunization coverage, reinforcing the need to continue immunization support.

"It’s absolutely wonderful that so many children are off to a healthy start in life thanks to the progress we’ve made in combating measles through immunization," said Dr Julie Gerberding, CDC Director. "Other children’s lives are still at risk, however, so it’s time we refocus our attention on sustaining our immunization efforts in countries where rates are low."

The progress in South-East Asia has been limited — with just a 42% decline in measles deaths. This is due to the delayed implementation of large-scale vaccination campaigns in India, which currently accounts for two thirds of global measles deaths. Political commitment in India is essential if the 2010 global goal is to be achieved.

"The progress that has been made shows what can be achieved through measles vaccination campaigns, but much more needs to be done," said Ann M. Veneman, Executive Director of UNICEF. "It is a tragedy that measles still kills more than 500 children a day when there is a safe, effective and inexpensive vaccine to prevent the disease."

The world's success in reaching the 2010 measles goal depends on ensuring that all children receive two doses of measles vaccine including one dose by their first birthday, strengthening disease surveillance systems, and providing effective treatment for measles.

"Progress also depends on addressing the considerable funding gap," said Kathy Calvin, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for the UN Foundation. "The shortfall stands at US$ 176 million for 2009-2010, of which US$ 35 million is urgently needed for 2009. With continued funding and increasing ownership and commitment of countries, we can sustain our progress and achieve our goal by 2010. We ask our supporters to stay with us and strongly encourage new supporters to join us in our effort to save lives."

The Measles Initiative

The Measles Initiative is a partnership committed to reducing measles deaths globally. Launched in 2001, the initiative — led by the American Red Cross, the United Nations Foundation, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF and WHO —provides technical and financial support to governments and communities on vaccination campaigns and disease surveillance worldwide. The initiative has supported the vaccination of 600 million children in more than 60 countries helping reduce measles deaths by 74% globally and 89% in Africa (compared to 2000).

Other key partners in the fight against measles include Becton, Dickinson and Company, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Canadian International Development Agency, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the GAVI Alliance, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Izumi Foundation, the Kessler Family Foundation, Merck Co., the Vodafone Foundation, and countries and governments affected by measles.

* The countries in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean region are: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, the Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

For more information please contact:

Hayatee Hasan
WHO, Geneva
Telephone: +41 79 351 6330
E-mail: hasanh@who.int

Christian Moen
UNICEF, New York
Telephone: +1 212 326 7516
E-mail: cmoen@unicef.org

Christy Feig
American Red Cross, Washington, DC
Telephone: +1 202 303 5074
E-mail: feigc@usa.redcross.org

Steven Stewart
CDC, Atlanta
Telephone: +1 404 639 8327
E-mail: znc4@cdc.gov

Amy DiElsi
UN Foundation, Washington, DC
Telephone: +1 202 419 3230
E-mail: adielsi@unfoundation.org

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