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Measles Deaths Decline Worldwide By 78%, Experts Warn Against Complacency

Measles deaths fell from 733,000 in 2000 to 164,000 in 2008 – 78 percent – thanks, in part, to increased vaccination efforts that reached an estimated 700 million children, according to a report released Thursday by the U.S.-based Measles Initiative, Reuters reports. The Measles Initiative – an international partnership that includes groups such as the CDC, WHO and UNICEF – assists developing countries with the purchase and distribution of measles vaccines.

Large-scale vaccination campaigns and routine immunization coverage have “prevented an estimated 4.3 million measles deaths in less than a decade, the group said.” The report also showed that Southeast Asia, which includes India, Indonesia and Bangladesh, “lagged behind the global trend, with measles deaths falling only 46 percent between 2000 and 2008,” Reuters writes (Kelland, 12/3).

“Measles is highly contagious, with symptoms that include a rash, high fever, cough, a runny nose and watery eyes,” the Los Angeles Time blog “Booster Shots” reports. “In developed countries, about 1% of infected children die, but in developing countries, with their high rate of malnourishment and other afflictions, as much as 15% die. The Measles Initiative helps in areas with poor vaccination coverage by providing shots to children 9 months to 15 years old. Two doses of the vaccine, which costs about a dollar, are recommended, but one dose will protect most children” (Maugh, 12/3).

“Today’s news shows the power of vaccination,” CDC Director Thomas Frieden said during a conference call Thursday, Bloomberg reports (Randall, 12/3).

“All regions except Southeast Asia achieved the U.N. goal of a 90 percent drop in measles deaths in the first decade of the 21st century, according to UNICEF and the World Health Organization,” Canwest News Service/Calgary Herald reports (Edwards, 12/3). The New York Times also examines India’s measles death rates (Dugger, 12/3).

According to Ann Veneman, executive director of UNICEF, Bangladesh, China, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Vietnam plan to run national immunization campaigns, United Press International reports (12/3).

“[G]lobal immunization experts warn of a resurgence in measles deaths if vaccination efforts are not sustained,” Xinhua reports. “So much has been achieved in the past several years thanks to the hard work and commitment of national governments and donors. But with only two years until the target date, there are signs of stalling momentum,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said. “This is a highly contagious disease that can quickly take advantage of any lapse in effort,” she added (12/4).

Bloomberg continues, “The Measles Initiative is $59 million short of the fundraising goals needed to meet its goals next year, the group said in a statement,” the news service writes. “Health authorities from the CDC and WHO said they fear government complacency and a lack of funding may quickly reverse the progress made against measles, resulting in an additional 1.7 million deaths from 2010 to 2013” (12/3).