Measles deaths plummet worldwide

Some very significant news on the global health front: measles deaths worldwide fell by 78% between 2000 and 2008, from an estimated 733,000 in 2000 to 164,000 in 2008.   On a conference call with reporters, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Thomas R. Frieden called this “a remarkable achievement,” and the Measles Initiative says that a vaccination campaign that targeted 700 million children worldwide has prevented an estimated 4.3 million deaths of children under five years old. 

However, (unfortunately, there has to be an “however”) these gains may be undermined by the global financial crisis.  Funding for the global vaccination campaign faces a $59 million gap.   And because of the highly infectious nature of measles, even a slight reduction of vaccination rates can mean a resurgence of the virus.  Additionally, one region–south-east Asia–remains particularly vulnerable.  In fact, it is the only region of the world that has not yet met the UN target of a 90% reduction of measles deaths by 2010.  India alone accounts for three quarters of measles deaths worldwide. 

On the call,  UNICEF director Ann Venemen noted that India was working on a national vaccination strategy, but still described the situation there as “an unacceptable reality.”  The CDC’s Dr. Frieden warned, “unless significant progress is made in India, an estimated half million children will be killed by measles in the next five years.”

The big takeaway for me is that the funding gap–$59 million–is not, in budgetary terms, a terribly significant outlay. Yet this shortfall persists — and if it is not filled, children will needlessly die.  On the other hand, the successes of the Measles Initiative to date stands as a sterling example of what public-private and non-profit partnerships can achieve in the sphere of global health.  Like yellow fever and polio, measles is a disease that can be virtually eradicated globally just as its been eradicated in most developed countries.  It’s only a matter of relatively small amount of money and political will.  Let’s get to it!


*The Measles Initiative is a partnership led by the American Red Cross, the United Nations Foundation, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF and the World Health Organization. As regular readers know, UN Dispatch enjoys the sponsorship of the UN Foundation.


Photo: Measles Initiative