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UN to Expand Measles Vaccination Campaign - 2003-10-26

The World Health Organization and the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) are intensifying efforts to drastically reduce the spread of measles, a leading killer of children. Nearly 750,000 children die each year from measles, more than half of them in Africa.

The U.N. agencies plan to expand a campaign against measles, which they started three years ago in 45 priority countries. That campaign has cut the number of deaths by 25 percent.

World Health Organization spokeswoman Melissa Corkum said the new strategy aims to reduce measles deaths by 50 percent by 2005.

"The strategy basically is providing every child with two opportunities for a measles immunization, whether it is a routine immunization or supported by supplementary immunization campaigns. What we are now looking to do is intensify commitment politically within the 45 priority countries, but also within donor countries because, of course, coupled with these efforts is, of course, the requirement of political and financial support from donors and governments around the world to put this strategy into action," she said.

The 45 targeted countries account for 95 percent of measles deaths around the world. Thirty-one of these countries are in Africa.

The World Health Organization and UNICEF say almost one-half million children will be saved every year if there are expanded efforts to immunize and protect all children against measles.

Since they launched their anti-measles campaign in 2000, the agencies say they have delivered vaccine against the disease to more than 200 million children globally.

Of all the vaccine-preventable diseases, Ms. Corkum said, measles remains the leading childhood killer. "An incredibly safe, effective vaccine to prevent measles has been available for the past 40 years. Today it is unacceptable that nearly 750,000 kids still die from measles. So it is important that every child has two opportunities for that life-saving measles vaccine," she said.

The World Health Organization says it would cost governments only one dollar to save one child from dying from measles.