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Measles Campaign Reduces Deaths in African Children

I’m Jim Tedder with the VOA Special English Health Report.

An international group says cases of measles in Africa have dropped by sixty percent since nineteen ninety-nine. The group is known as the Measles Initiative. It says almost two hundred million children have been vaccinated against the disease in the past six years. The World Health Organization says vaccination campaigns in more than forty countries in Africa have saved one million children.

Measles is the leading cause of vaccine-preventable death in children. Vaccination campaigns have controlled the disease in Western countries. But it still leads to more than four hundred thousand deaths each year. Most of the victims are under five years old.

Almost every child got measles before a vaccine was discovered in nineteen sixty-two. About five percent died. Measles itself does not kill children. Instead, it weakens their systems so they can die from other infections.

Measles is one of the most infectious diseases known. It spreads through the air. Signs include high body temperature, skin peeling, cough and difficulty breathing. Measles can cause diarrhea, pneumonia, blindness and other disorders.

Health officials say the Measles Initiative has led to other improvements for children in southern Africa. Through the campaign, children receive bed nets treated with insecticide to kill mosquitoes that spread malaria. They receive vitamin A to prevent blindness. And they receive treatment for stomach worms.

Representatives of the Measles Initiative announced the progress at a Global Health Summit in New York earlier this month. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Time magazine and other organizations provided support for the meeting.

The Measles Initiative has raised more than one hundred forty million dollars since two thousand one. The alliance includes the American Red Cross and United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It also includes UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Foundation, a private group led by businessman Ted Turner.

Health officials say ninety-five percent of all cases of measles are in Africa. But UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman says Asia has the greatest number of children who die. She says the success of the Measles Initiative must now be copied in Asia.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Cynthia Kirk. Our reports are online at I’m Jim Tedder.