The Red Cross Immunization Initiative: A World of Progress

The Red Cross Immunization Initiative: A World of Progress in Combatting Measles and Rubella
This is world Immunization Week when the Red Cross acknowledges its great progress in this international arena.

In 2000, before the Measles & Rubella Initiative formed, more than 535,000 children worldwide died from measles each year. By 2010, through the efforts of the Red Cross’ Measles & Rubella Initiative and other resources worldwide, a global push to improve vaccine coverage resulted in a 74% reduction in deaths. The Initiative has delivered more than 1-billion doses of measles vaccine to children in 80 countries. The Measles & Rubella Initiative goal is to reduce measles deaths worldwide by 95% by 2015 and eliminate measles and rubella in at least five of the six World Health Organization regions by 2020.

This is world Immunization Week when the Red Cross acknowledges its great progress in this international arena.

For just $1, a child can be safely and effectively vaccinated against these two diseases, making it one of the most cost-effective health interventions available.

Initially focused on Africa where the disease burden was highest, the Measles & Rubella Initiative provides technical and financial support to governments, who require support to control the spread of these diseases. In sub-Saharan Africa, measles related deaths have plunged by 85%.

While significant progress has been made, measles still kills an estimated 139,300 each year – mostly children less than five years of age. That means approximately 380 die from measles-related complications each day. Yet measles can be completed prevented.

In many developing countries, parents do not have access to immunization services that could protect their children from this fate. Factors such as poverty, poor health systems and a lack of information can make it difficult for families to secure preventative vaccinations for each of their children.

The risk also remains in developed nations. Although measles was eliminated from the Western Hemisphere in 2002 and endemic rubella has not been detected in the Americas since 2009, outbreaks can occur when unvaccinated residents are exposed to infected people, mostly through international travel.

Measles is a highly-contagious virus, spread by contact with an infected person through coughing and sneezing. And, as we have seen in several countries in the African, South-East Asian, European, Eastern Mediterranean and Western Pacific Regions, measles returns when we let down our guard. Rubella also remains a threat to pregnant women and their fetuses in particular, with more than 100,000 children born each year with congenital rubella syndrome (CRS), which includes heart defects, blindness and deafness.

The Red Cross’ Measles & Rubella Initiative represents one of the world’s most successful partnerships in public health – helping to control the spread of measles and reduce deaths.