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Ghana Campaign Aims to Fight Rise of Childhood Diseases

A campaign to immunize millions of children in Ghana against measles was launched this week with support from the United Nations Foundation.

This week the U.N. Foundation is supporting a follow-up measles immunization campaign in Ghana to reach four million children.

U.N. Foundation Executive Director for Children's Health Andrea Gay said despite previous strides made to decrease the cases of measles, a resurgence has occurred in the past two years.

"And in the last two years, 2009 and 2010, we have seen outbreaks of measles in African countries that have virtually not seen any deaths or cases for a number of years. And as an example, in seven South African countries they are now re-doing the campaigns they did in the late 1990s to protect children up to 14 years, because they have had huge surge in cases and deaths," said Gay.

Dr. Nana Antwi-Agyei, who heads Ghana's National Expanded Program on Immunization, agreed that though Ghana has been able to reduce measles cases the disease remains a threat.

"Measles is a killer. The cases have reduced to less than a thousand in 2009 because of the campaigns, but then we still have outbreaks, which have not been fatal, but then the potential to kill is always existing, and we still see it as a threat. Between March and June we have a lot of cases, but then the pattern is changing as we have interrupted transmission so these days we get sporadic cases," said Antwi-Agyei.

The U.N. Foundation is collaborating with a number of agencies including the Measles Initiative, the United Nations Children's Fund, and the World Health Organization to reduce global measles mortality through mass vaccination campaigns and by strengthening routine immunization. Gay advocates country ownership to ensure a successful campaign.

"Country ownership, particularly the government's ownership of immunizations is critical. And I think that Ghana has been in the lead on this. The government has been very supportive, has contributed financing, they have also improved on the management and they have actually strengthened their health systems," said Gay.

Antwi-Agyei said that in addition to winning the fight against measles, Ghana also hopes to further reduce infant mortality by tackling other childhood killers like malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia.