Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies and their volunteers have been significant contributors to the fight against measles throughout the world, especially in Africa.
Thousands of Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers took part in vaccination campaigns which have helped to bring about spectacular results as shown in the latest figures released last week. Measles deaths in Africa fell by 91% between 2000 and 2006, from an estimated 396 000 to 36 000, reaching the United Nations 2010 goal to cut measles deaths by 90% four years early. The stunning gains achieved in Africa helped to also generate a strong decline in global measles deaths, which fell 68% worldwide – from an estimated 757 000 to 242 000 – during this period.
The progress was announced by the founding partners of the Measles Initiative: the American Red Cross, UNICEF, the United Nations Foundation, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is also a key partner in the Measles Initiative, and has been an active contributor since the Initiative’s founding in 2001.
"This phenomenal achievement is an example of the incredible power of health partnerships and the critical role that Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers play in increasing immunization coverage and reaching the most vulnerable,” says Dr Bruce Eshaya-Chauvin, Head of the International Federation’s Health and Care Department. “From 2001-2006, Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have participated in more than 40 Measles Initiative campaigns in Africa, providing volunteers for social mobilization literally through door-to-door activities. Over 100,000 volunteers have been mobilized for these campaigns, helping to reach the 91% reduction in measles mortality in Africa four years early."
The significant decline in measles deaths in Africa was also made possible by the firm commitment of national governments to fully implement the measles reduction strategy, which includes vaccinating all children against measles before their first birthday via routine health services and providing a second opportunity for measles vaccination through mass vaccination campaigns.
Mass vaccination campaigns have had a major impact on reducing global measles mortality. From 2000 to 2006, an estimated 478 million children aged nine months to 14 years received measles vaccination through campaigns in 46 out of the 47 priority countries severely affected by the disease.
In 2006, global routine measles vaccination coverage reached an estimated 80% for the first time, up from 72% in 2000. The largest improvements in vaccination coverage were in the African and the Eastern Mediterranean regions.
Major challenges still need to be overcome to achieve the goal to cut global measles deaths by 90% in the period 2000-2010. Large countries with high numbers of measles deaths, such as India and Pakistan, need to fully implement the proven control strategy. Currently, about 74% of measles deaths globally occur in South Asia.
In addition, countries that have implemented accelerated measles control activities must sustain the gains that they have made. This means that all measles priority countries must continue conducting follow-up vaccination activities every two to four years until their routine immunization systems are capable of providing measles vaccination to all children.
"As the Measles Initiative moves to other regions, Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers will continue to be a key partner in these vaccination efforts. National Societies in Bangladesh, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Pakistan have already participated in their historic campaigns, and we intend to continue supporting national society involvement in this successful partnership to build upon the 68% global reduction announced last week," concludes Dr Eshaya-Chauvin.