Nick Farrell, coordinator of ARCHI 2010
Measles is the leading cause of vaccine-preventable death among children in Africa. But mass vaccination campaigns in sub-Saharan Africa are yielding amazing results. The number of measles cases in six target countries has dropped by 85 per cent.
Of the 1.7 million vaccine-preventable deaths among children around the world in 2000, nearly half died from measles. More than half of these measles deaths happen in Africa.
Some 1,200 children die every day in Africa from something that can be prevented for less than one US dollar. Yet of the 200 million children at risk from measles on this continent, only half have received any vaccine against the disease.
The aim of the Measles Initiative is to reduce measles deaths in Africa to virtually zero by 2005, thus preventing some 1.2 million deaths. This will be achieved through mass vaccination campaigns, high routine immunization coverage, improved surveillance and investigation of all suspected cases. In all, 200 million children will have to be vaccinated or revaccinated in 36 sub-Saharan African countries.
Partners in the initiative include the National Societies and governments of afflicted countries, the American Red Cross, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United Nations Foundation, the UN Children's Fund (Unicef), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Federation.
Between September 2001 and June 2002, nine countries were identified for the mass vaccination campaigns targeting more than 32 million children under the age of 15: Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda and Cameroon.
National Red Cross Societies worked closely with the respective Health Ministries, the WHO and Unicef, and mobilized 18,575 community volunteers.
The results, presented by the WHO in September 2002, were astounding. The number of measles cases reported in Burkina Faso, Mali, Togo, Benin, Cameroon and Ghana for the first six months of this year were 85 per cent lower than for the same period in 2001. The number of deaths from the disease dropped by 81 per cent.
In these six countries, it is estimated that with this intervention, 33,500 measles deaths will be prevented every year, and eventually, up to 100,500 over the projected three-year duration of impact. But, even though the data shows a dramatic reduction in cases and deaths, the ultimate goal is reducing measles mortality to nearly zero, and for this to happen, a routine vaccination coverage of over 80 per cent will have to be achieved - and sustained.
The International Federation remains committed to this child mortality reduction intiative, and will launch an appeal in December 2002 aiming to reduce childhood deaths due to measles in Africa, along with completing polio eradication and improving access to routine vaccination services.
Meanwhile, National Societies in Tanzania, Benin, Ghana, Cameroon, Senegal, Rwanda and Angola will provide volunteers to support social mobilization for these mass measles campaigns until April 2003.
West Africa: Appeals, updates and reports
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