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Red Cross Urges World Leaders to Prioritize Measles Elimination


In an effort to secure political and financial support for international measles control efforts, the Red Cross addressed the 63rd session of the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland this week.

Health ministers from more than 190 countries gather each year to set the World Health Organization’s (WHO) priorities, forming the world’s largest health policy body. Representing the global Red Cross network, Ciara de Mora with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, urged this influential group to protect our success, our investment and most importantly, our children.

“We have made tremendous strides in measles control,” she began. “With only 164,000 deaths in 2008, elimination is within reach. However, as one of the world's most contagious diseases, measles is poised to make a rapid comeback unless we immediately make the requisite political and financial commitments.” Applauding the achievements of governments and the Measles Initiative partners – the American Red Cross, United Nations Foundation, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, and WHO – de Mora expanded on the past decade’s worth of successes:

  • Between 2000 and 2008, measles deaths declined by 78 percent worldwide and by a staggering 92 percent in Africa.
  • In this short time, 4.3 million lives have been saved.
  • All countries except one have reached the United Nations goal of 90 percent mortality reduction between 2000 and 2010.

“The reduction in global measles mortality shows what countries and their partners can achieve in a short period of time with an effective and inexpensive intervention, a proven strategy, adequate funding and a successful global partnership,” de Mora added.

Vaccination campaigns to reduce measles deaths have also made tremendous contributions to routine immunization and health delivery systems by re-training health workers, improving cold chain and waste management systems, and strengthening disease surveillance to rapidly detect and control outbreaks. Measles vaccination campaigns also contribute to the reduction of child deaths through integration with other health interventions, such as insecticide-treated nets to prevent malaria, vitamin A supplements, and deworming medicine.

At the height of global achievements in measles control, however, a considerable decline in funding and political commitment severely threatens this progress.

“So much has been achieved [in measles control] in the past several years thanks to the hard work and commitment of national governments and donors,” said Director General Dr. Margaret Chan with the WHO. “But…there are signs of stalling momentum. This is a highly contagious disease that can quickly take advantage of any lapse in effort.”

Since the start of 2009, more than 25 outbreaks in the African region alone have been recorded. Even more alarmingly, WHO estimates that the combined effect of decreased financial and political commitment could result in a return to more than 500,000 measles deaths a year by 2012, wiping out the gains made over the past decade. If measles resurges, it is highly unlikely that we will achieve the fourth Millennium Development Goal (MDG4), reducing child mortality, in the next five years.

“Rather than retreat, now is the time to accelerate progress,” de Mora said in conclusion. “Success in preventing measles deaths and achieving MDG 4 relies on continued country commitment and increased donor support to conduct measles campaigns and strengthen routine immunization. Cooperation and partnership are essential to achieve regional elimination goals.”

As the world’s largest humanitarian organisation with a presence in virtually every corner of the world, the global Red Cross network stands ready to contribute our most valuable resource – community-based volunteers – to the efforts of governments and the Measles Initiative.

The success of measles vaccination campaigns depends largely on spreading the word to communities. Red Cross volunteers across the globe use a variety of techniques, including mass media, posters, door-to-door visits and community forums to reach internally-displaced populations, remote villages and families usually missed by routine health services. Songs are written, theatrical plays conducted and fliers passed out at schools to alert families of when and where their child can receive a measles vaccination.

Mothers feel safe bringing their children to the vaccination posts because they know and trust Red Cross volunteers, making them a critical link in this lifesaving effort.

To learn more about the Measles Initiative and support its efforts to vaccinate more children than ever before this year, visit www.measlesinitiative.org.