To Eradicate a Disease

In any given year, the number of measles related deaths in the United States can be counted on a single hand. But throughout much of the developing world hundreds of thousands of people, mostly children under five, still die each year from measles.

In response to this often overlooked public health threat, a coalition of American and international organizations (including the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Red Cross, UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Foundation) teamed up in 2000 to form the Measles Initiative. The goal: cutting measles deaths by 50% in 2005 and 90% by 2010.

This week, a study published in the British medical journal The Lancet confirmed that that the Measles Initiative in fact exceeded its interim goal, and have cut worldwide measles deaths by 60% from 1999 to 2005.

From The Lancet (registration required): “Between 1999 and 2005, according to our model mortality owing to measles was reduced by 60%, from an estimated 873,000 deaths (uncertainty bounds 634,000-1,140,000) in 1999 to 345,000 deaths (247,000-458,000) in 2005. The largest percentage reduction in estimated measles mortality during this period was in the western Pacific region (81%), followed by Africa (75%) and the eastern Mediterranean region (62%). Africa achieved the largest total reduction, contributing 72% of the global reduction in measles mortality. Nearly 7.5 million deaths from measles were prevented through immunisation between 1999 and 2005, with supplemental immunisation activities and improved routine immunisation accounting for 2.3 million of these prevented deaths.”


“The achievement of the 2005 global measles mortality reduction goal is evidence of what can be accomplished for child survival in countries with high childhood mortality when safe, cost-effective, and affordable interventions are backed by country-level political commitment and an effective international partnership.”

I would also add that like polio, measles may soon be joining smallpox as diseases that have been eradicated under United Nations auspices. These are huge public health accomplishments, and were only possible through coordinated international action.