Launching the ‘€œCape Town Measles Declaration’€ recently, the United Nations Children’€™s Fund (Unicef) executive director Carol Bellamy said that as far as vaccine preventable deaths went, none was more deadly than measles.

‘€œThe magnitude of the loss represented by such numbers is staggering, not only to families and communities, but to countries that can scarcely afford the destruction of so much human potential,’€ said Bellamy.

What makes these figures even more damning is the fact that children can be immunized safely against measles for life at a cost of less than U$1 (R7) per child.

‘€œ(This makes) these deaths more than tragic. They are intolerable,’€ said Bellamy.

A light at the end of the tunnel is the fact that in just three years, and against great odds (lack of infrastructure, civil wars), roleplayers have cut the number of children dying from measles by almost 25%.

This is lauded as one of the most dramatic declines in disease mortality in history.

Bellamy said it was important to achieve a further 25% reduction, but said this would only be possible with the political and financial support of donors and governments.

Last year, the UN General Assembly Special Session on Children set a 2005 target date to reduce measles deaths from 1999 levels by 50%.

The ‘€œCape Town Measles Declaration’€ also calls on governments to take strong action against measles and to control the disease to meet the Millennium Development targets of a 67% reduction in under five mortality by 2015.

A recent article in The Lancet pointed out that the annual deaths of nearly 11 million children under five were caused by a relatively limited number of preventable ailments, including measles, pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria and the effects of malnutrition.

All you need to know about measles:

  • Measles is one of the most readily transmitted communicable diseases ‘€“ the best known and most deadly of all childhood vaccine-preventable diseases.
  • It is caused by a virus.
  • It is spread by droplets or direct contact with nasal or throat secretions of infected persons (coughing and sneezing); less commonly by airborne spread or by articles freshly soiled with secretions of nose and throat.
  • Measles cause a high fever, rash, and cough, runny nose and can kill. Infants and young children are at highest risk, but the disease can also affect older children, adolescents and young adults.
  • Children often do not die directly of measles, but the virus attacks their already weakened immune systems and they die from the complications such as pneumonia, diarrhoea or encephalitis. It can also cause blindness.
  • Measles account for about half of vaccine-preventable deaths among children.
  • Measles is the fifth overall leading cause of death among children under age of five.
  • More than 30 million persons are affected each year by measles.
  • An estimated 745 000 children die each year from measles. This translates to 2 000 every day or 85 every hour.
  • Measles deaths and suffering are preventable. A safe, effective and inexpensive vaccine exists.
  • It costs less than a dollar to immunize a child against measles.
  • Failure to provide children with one dose of measles vaccine remains the primary reason for continuing high childhood deaths and suffering from measles.
  • High routine immunization is important. In the 45 priority countries, it is critical that all children are provided with two opportunities for measles immunization within the first five years of their life.
  • The 45 World Health Organisation/Unicef priority countries for measles mortality reduction: Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Cote d’€™Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Afghanistan, Djibouti, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Cambodia, Lao DPR, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam.

E-mail Anso Thom

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