U.N. Agencies Issue Warning, Appeal For Funds To Tackle Measles Outbreak In West, Central Africa

“Sixteen countries in West and Central Africa are in the throes of a measles outbreak, at a time when there is a shortfall in funding for vaccination campaigns against the disease, two U.N. agencies said in a joint statement on Thursday,” Reuters AlertNet reports (Fominyen, 4/22).

Between January 1 and March 28, there were reports of 22,364 cases of measles and 185 deaths from the disease, according to a WHO-UNICEF press release (4/22). “The worst outbreaks have occurred in Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Liberia, Burkina Faso and Cameroon,”Agence France-Presse/Africasia.com reports (4/22).

“Measles is one of the most infectious diseases that exists,” the Associated Press writes. “Though it is no longer a major problem in the West, in poor countries, the disease can kill as many as 30 percent of the children it infects, particularly in those with weakened immune systems,” according to the news service (4/22).

“Efforts by African governments with support of partners such as the Measles Initiative – led by the American Red Cross, the United Nations Foundation, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF and the World Health Organization – have resulted in a reduction of 92% of cases during 2000-2008 in the Africa region,” according to the WHO-UNICEF press release. “However, in West and Central Africa, most of the countries have immunized only about 80 percent or less of their populations through routine immunization, when the recommendation is to reach 95%” (4/22).

“Failure to vaccinate every child had created a pool of ‘susceptible victims which builds up a perfect breeding ground for measles outbreaks,’ Gianfranco Rotigliano, director for West and Central Africa at the United Nation’s Childrens Fund (UNICEF) added,” Reuters AlertNet continues. “Such a figure means they can expect to have large, sustained outbreaks every three to four years” WHO Regional Director for Africa Luis Gomes Sambo said.

The article includes information about the impact of measles outbreaks last year in the countries of Burkina Faso – where more than 50,000 cases and 340 deaths occurred – and several localized outbreaks in Benin, Guinea, Mali, Niger and Senegal. The piece also notes, “The current measles outbreak may be difficult to contain in some countries, including Sierra Leone and Mauritania, where half of the reported cases are adolescents and adults who are not among the 9 to 60 months age group that is usually the target of immunisation campaigns in the region, UNICEF said” (4/22).

“To eliminate the risk of resurgence, countries must continue follow-up vaccination campaigns every two to four years until their healthcare systems can routinely provide two doses of measles vaccination to all children and provide treatment for the disease” Sambo added, according to the WHO-UNICEF press release (4/22).

In total, the U.N. agencies say $59 million is needed for follow-up measles campaigns worldwide, with $16 million for such vaccination campaigns in Africa, CBC News reports. “UNICEF is planning follow-up campaigns this year, funding permitting, in Congo, Central African Republic, Gabon, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Mali,” according to the news service (4/22).

“2010 is a pivotal year to reach the United Nations goal of reducing measles mortality by 90% from 2000 to 2010,” the WHO-UNICEF release notes. “If nothing is done to counter the resurgence in measles cases, we risk reversing the progress made so far.” The release features a country breakdown of the number of measles cases and deaths since the beginning of the year (4/22).

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