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Last Updated: Friday, 30 November 2007, 09:40 GMT
'Dramatic' fall in measles deaths
African woman with her children
Vaccine campaigns have produced large drops in measles deaths
Measles deaths in Africa fell by 91% between 2000 and 2006, figures from the World Health Organization show.

The drop, from an estimated 396,000 to 36,000, means the United Nations target to cut measles deaths by 90% by 2010 has been hit four years early.

But the WHO warned deaths were still far too high in South Asia, particularly in India and Pakistan.

The success follows concerted efforts to vaccinate all children against measles before their first birthday.

Overall global measles deaths fell by 68% - from an estimated 757,000 to 242,000 - over the six year period, a WHO report showed.

This is a major public health success and a tribute to the commitment of countries in the African region
Dr Margaret Chan, WHO director-general

The Measles Initiative was set up in 2001 to provide technical and financial support to governments and communities on vaccination campaigns.

From 2000 to 2006, an estimated 478 million children received measles vaccine 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.

Currently, about 74% of measles deaths globally occur in South Asia.

Preventable disease

Measles can be viewed in developed countries, such as the UK, as a mild childhood illness.

But the disease is highly contagious and can kill, or leave children with lifelong disabilities such as blindness and brain damage.

A vaccine has been available since the 1960s.

WHO said the decline in measles deaths in Africa was made possible because governments had implemented robust immunisation programmes.

"This is a major public health success and a tribute to the commitment of countries in the African region," said Dr Margaret Chan, WHO director-general.

"We need to sustain this success and intensify our efforts in other parts of the world, as there are still far too many lives lost to this disease."

Dr Julie Gerberding, prevention director of the United States Centers for Disease Control, said: "The clear message from this achievement is that the strategy works.

"The next step is to fully implement this strategy in South Asia, where measles disease burden is now the highest in the world."

Ann Veneman, executive director of UNICEF welcomed the progress that had been made.

But she added: "Measles is still killing nearly 600 children under five every day, an unacceptable reality when we have a safe, effective, and inexpensive vaccine to prevent the disease."

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