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Global Group: Measles in Africa Down 60 Percent

Partners of the Measles Initiative Wednesday said the number of measles cases in Africa has dropped by 60 percent since 1999 as a result of vaccination campaigns in over 40 countries. Officials say the reduction in measles cases and deaths from the highly preventable illness will also help in the fight against other childhood diseases in Africa and elsewhere.

Since 1999, nearly 200 million children have been vaccinated against measles and the lives of one million children, most under the age of five, have been saved as a result of systematic, routine and supplementary measles immunization, according to the Measles Initiative.

The Initiative's partners include the American Red Cross, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

The Measles Initiative has raised more than $144 million since 2001 to carry out vaccination campaigns on the continent. Another partner, the private United Nations Foundation, announced Wednesday it's contributing $20 million more to the effort.

Health officials say Africa has 95 percent of the world's measles cases so they look toward that continent to gauge the success of coordinated measles vaccination campaigns to combat a highly preventable disease.

Steve Blount, of the Centers for Disease Control, called the African experience a true public health success story of modern times.

Dr. Blount says countries are increasingly combining more comprehensive childcare with measles campaigns.

"Ministries of health are moving from implementing vertical, single disease programs that target just one condition to implementing integrated child health programs that deliver additional, life-saving interventions to this vulnerable age group," said Dr. Blount.

Through measles campaigns, officials say children can receive malaria bed nets, vitamin A to prevent blindness and de-worming medication.

Officials say the success of the measles campaign goes a long way toward reaching the U.N. Millennium goal of reducing child mortality by two-thirds by the year 2015.

UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman says the results in Africa can be applied to other countries.

"While the measles initiative includes all of Africa, its success must be replicated in Asia, which accounts for the greatest number of children who die from measles," she noted. "In February, the initiative and the government of Bangladesh will launch the largest ever measles campaign aiming to 35 million children."

The announcements by the Measles Initiative were made at the Time Magazine Global Health Summit in New York.