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Last Updated: Friday, 10 March 2006, 11:04 GMT
Global measles deaths fall by 48%
African woman with her children
Measles deaths in Africa have fallen as child vaccination rates have risen
The number of people dying of measles across the world has fallen by almost half, the latest figures show.

The World Health Organization and the United Nations Children's Fund revealed deaths fell from 871,000 in 1999 to 454,000 in 2004.

The largest reduction occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, which had been hardest hit by the disease, where cases and deaths dropped by 60%.

Vaccination has been cited as the reason for the fall in cases.

The organisations made a pledge in 2001 to cut deaths in measles by half by 2005.


Public awareness of measles in the UK is largely centred around the debate over the measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR jab.

If progress continues at this rate, the global goal to cut measles deaths by half will have been achieved on time
Dr Jong-wook Lee, World Health Organization Director-General

But, in many parts of the world, it is measles itself which is the focus of attention.

It is one of the most contagious diseases known.

A cheap and safe vaccine has been available since the 1960s.

But around 410,000 children aged under five died from it in 2004, most from complications related to severe diarrhoea and pneumonia.

Many who survive are left with lifelong disabilities including blindness and brain damage.

The WHO and Unicef say poor immunisation systems in developing countries are the primary reason for high numbers of deaths from measles.

'Unecessary deaths'

A collaboration of organisations, under the umbrella organisation the Measles Initiative, targeted efforts in the 47 countries that account for 98% of measles deaths.

The initiative has raised more than US$150 million for its work since 2001.

And between 1999 and 2005, nearly 500 million children were immunised against the disease.

African countries have been successful in reducing measles deaths, it was found. But progress in the South Asia region has been slower.

Dr Jong-wook Lee, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) said: "This is an outstanding public health success story.

"If progress continues at this rate, the global goal to cut measles deaths by half will have been achieved on time."

Ann Veneman, Unicef Executive Director, added: "Measles remains a major killer of children in the developing world, but it doesn't have to be.

"Just two doses of an inexpensive, safe, and available measles vaccine can prevent most, if not all, measles deaths."

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