Deaths from measles have halved, says WHO

Kathmandu, March 10:

The global immunisation drive has cut measles deaths by nearly half between 1999 and 2004, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today.

Issuing a press release today, the WHO said global deaths due to measles fell by 48 per cent, from 871 000 in 1999 to an estimated 454 000 in 2004, due to major national immunisation activities and better access to routine childhood immunisation.

The largest reduction occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, the region with the highest burden of the disease, where estimated measles cases and deaths dropped by 60 per cent.

“This is an outstanding public health success story,” the press release quoted Dr Lee Jong-wook as saying. “If progress continues at this rate, the global goal to cut measles deaths by half will have been achieved on time.”

Nepal has achieved the goal of controlling measles by half by 2005 as compared to that of 2003. The death rates have dropped to 2,500 from the reported cases of 5,000 in 2003.

Only one measles outbreak was seen this year while last year before campaigning it was 138 outbreaks. Dr Yasovardan Pradhan, director at the Child Health Division (CHD), said that despite so many challenges, such as topographical difficulties, marginalised groups, conflict and poverty, the achievement of the goal regarding measles campaign is outstanding.

Although a safe, effective and inexpensive vaccine has been available since the 1960s, an estimated 4,10, 000 children under the age of five died from measles in 2004 throughout the world, often from complications related to severe diarrhoea and pneumonia. Many who survive are left with lifelong disabilities including blindness and brain damage.

“Measles remains a major killer of children in the developing world, but it doesn’t have to be,” UNICEF executive director Ann M Veneman stated in a press release issued here. “Just two doses of an inexpensive, safe, and available measles vaccine can prevent most, if not all, measles deaths.”

The WHO and UNICEF have concentrated measles mortality reduction activities in 47 countries that account for about 98 per cent of global measles deaths, working primarily to improve routine immunisation and providing treatment to children with measles and strengthening disease surveillance.