Global leaders in childhood immunizations and partners of the Measles Initiative gathered at the American Red Cross on Wednesday to celebrate the program's progress, but also to address the challenges ahead.
American Red Cross Chairman Bonnie McElveen-Hunter welcomes participants to the panel discussion.
Panelists (from left): Susie Lee, GAVI Alliance, Dr. Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, World Health Organization, and Dr. Ciro de Quadros, the Sabin Vaccine Institute.
"Every day, around the world, 1,000 children are not dying from measles," said Dr. Edward Hoekstra, senior health advisor for UNICEF. "And it is because of the Measles Initiative."
The Measles Initiative is a partnership— founded by the American Red Cross, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, the United Nations Foundation, and the World Health Organization— that is working toward the goal of reducing measles deaths globally by 90 percent by 2010.
Although it costs less than $1 to vaccinate a child against measles, in many developing countries, the disease remains one of the leading killers of children because the vaccine is often not available. The disease is so contagious that even one case can spread like wildfire.
"In some places in Africa, parents do not even give a child a name until he survives the measles," said Dr. Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, director of the department of immunization, vaccines and biologicals at WHO.
Since 2001, the partnership has already supported the vaccination over 500 million children in more than 50 countries, helping reduce measles deaths in Africa by more than 91 percent, from 396,000 deaths in 2000 to 36,000 in 2006. Globally, measles deaths have dropped by 68 percent, from 757,000 deaths to an estimated 242,000 deaths, in this time.
But the statistics are still staggering: Each day, more than 600 children around the world die from measles.
Last October, Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, chairman of the American Red Cross, traveled to Madagascar to participate in a measles vaccination campaign.
"I have looked into the eyes of children who didn't have the blessing of being born somewhere else," said McElveen-Hunter. "They have a great need. It's about doing something small that makes a big difference."
The Measles Initiative is now working with the government of India to launch a measles campaign in that country, where millions of infants have never been vaccinated against this disease.
"Today 60 percent of children who die from measles are in India," said Michele Kessler, the American Red Cross Global Ambassador for the Measles Initiative. "Starting a measles campaign in India is essential for reaching the 2010 goal."
But the price tag to reaching the goal is daunting. The Measles Initiative needs to raise an additional $202 million to support campaigns. With only two-and-a-half years to go, time is critical.
Dr. Ciro de Quadros is executive vice president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and one of the leaders of the team that eliminated polio and measles from the Americas. "What concerns me is the funding gap," said de Quadros. "If we continue with the funding gap, we will have a major problem that will be tragic; children will not survive and contribute knowledge to this world."
To learn more and support the Measles Initiative, go to: www.measlesinitiative.org.
The Measles Initiative is a partnership committed to reducing measles deaths globally. Launched in 2001, 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—provides technical and financial support to governments and communities on vaccination campaigns in all regions of the world. To date, the Initiative has supported the vaccination of more than 372 million children helping to reduce measles deaths by more than 60% globally (compared to 1999). To learn more or make a donation, visit www.measlesinitiative.org.