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Thursday, 29 March, 2001, 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK
Global crusade against measles
Measles immunisations must be increased, say experts
Measles immunisations must be increased, say experts
Experts have announced ambitious plans to halve measles deaths across the world by 2005.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) announced the Global Measles Strategic Plan on Thursday.

There are 1.6m child deaths each year from conditions which could have been prevented - perhaps by immunisation.

And measles deaths make up the majority of this figure.

African countries have the worst immunisation rates, with countries such as Burundi, Cameroon and Somalia reporting coverage rates of less than 50% in 1999.

Vaccination coverage levels need to be above 90% to stop measles deaths

Dr Suomi Sakai,
Unicef and the WHO said the main reason for the high incidence of measles cases, and deaths from the virus was children failing to receive at least one dose of the measles vaccine.

But the organisations did not explore whether a single measles vaccine, or the controversial measles, mumps and rubella should be given.

Some parents in the UK have been concerned over links made between the MMR jab and autism.

Tackling measles

The WHO and Unicef are calling on countries to look at how well they are controlling measles.

And it says those countries which have poor vaccination rates should look at why more parents are not having their children vaccinated.

Countries are also urged to set out a three to five year plan for cutting deaths from measles.

Measles is a virus, which mainly affects children, spread via infected droplets when people sneeze and cough.

In serious cases, measles sufferers can have a fever and rash.

Complications include ear infections, pneumonia, or encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) which can result in convulsions, deafness, brain damage or, in extreme cases, death.

Major killer

Dr Bjørn Melgaard, director of vaccines and biologicals of the WHO said: "Measles is still a major childhood killer, with over 30m cases and nearly 900 000 annual deaths in recent years.

"These figures are even more shocking given the fact that effective immunisation, which includes vaccine and safe injection equipment, costs just $0.26 and has been available for more than 30 years."

The WHO and Unicef worked with experts around the world to develop the plan.

The organisations will help countries to vaccinate all children once, and provide a "second opportunity" to encourage as many people as possible to have their children immunised.

Countries will also be helped to set up an effective system to monitor coverage, and provide better care for children who do suffer what can be serious side effects after developing measles.

Dr Suomi Sakai, Unicef's chief of immunisation activities said "near blanket coverage was needed to contain the disease.

"Because measles is so contagious and because a small number of those who are vaccinated do not develop immunity, vaccination coverage levels need to be above 90% to stop measles deaths.

"Unfortunately, this goal has not yet been achieved in all countries," she said, "But we know we can get there."

Experts say that controlling measles also has economic benefits as measles immunisation saves more lives per money spent than any other health intervention.

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