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DEVELOPMENT REPORT – February 25, 2002: Measles in Africa - 2002-02-22

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

Five leading public health organizations have announced a campaign to reduce the number of deaths among children in Africa caused by measles. The American Red Cross is leading this effort. Its goal is to save the lives of more than one-million children over the next five years. Officials hope to give vaccine medicines to prevent measles to more than two-hundred-million children.

Measles attacks the skin surfaces and the body’s defense system against disease. It also can cause blindness and brain damage. Measles is the single leading cause of death among children in Africa. It kills more than four-hundred-fifty-thousand children in Africa each year. Yet it can be easily prevented with a simple vaccine medicine.

Danny Tarantola (tah-RAHN-to-lah) is the Director of Vaccines at the World Health Organization. He says measles is seen in many African communities as the one disease that tests the survival of children. Doctor Tarantola says in some communities children will not be given a name unless they have survived the disease.The American Red Cross has joined four other organizations in the campaign against measles. They are the United States Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Foundation, and the U-N Children’s Fund. The five groups have promised two-hundred-million dollars for the campaign. That is about one-dollar for each child.

Officials say the campaign really began last year. More than twenty-million children received the measles vaccine in Tanzania, Uganda, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Cameroon. Officials say the campaign reached ninety-five percent of the children in those countries and saved more than one-hundred-forty-thousand lives. Officials now plan to target fifty-three-million children in twelve more countries this year.

Health officials hope to follow a model used during a successful campaign against the disease polio. They say the polio operation helped build a support system in Africa that the measles campaign will use. Officials are carrying out the effort against measles in Africa first because the need is greatest. However, they hope to extend the campaign to other parts of the world.

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss.