Funding gap threatens response to child measles outbreak in West, Central Africa – UN

A child being vaccinated against measles

23 April 2010 – Countries in West and Central Africa have been hit by a measles outbreak affecting more than 22,000 children, with a shortage of resources for immunizations threatening to roll back progress on curbing child mortality in the region, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has warned.

A funding shortfall of $16 million for follow-up vaccination campaigns jeopardizes the health of children in Africa, including the 16 nations in the throes of the latest outbreak, according to the agency.

In most West and Central African countries, only 80 percent or less of their populations have been immunized, short of the 95 per cent recommended by the UN World Health Organization (WHO).

“Such a figure means they can expect to have large, sustained outbreaks every three to four years” said the agency’s Regional Director for Africa, Luis Gomes Sambo.

Nearly 200 child deaths from measles have been reported in the 16 nations affected by the outbreak in the past year.

“We fail to vaccinate every child. That is why we have a pool of susceptible victims which builds up as a perfect breeding ground for measles outbreaks,” according to UNICEF’s Director for West and Central Africa, Gianfranco Rotigliano.

Measles are among the world’s most contagious diseases, easily spread through coughing or sneezing, and is one of the leading causes of death among children around the world.

Last year, a major outbreak in Burkina Faso killed 340 people and caused more than 50,000 to get sick, while more than 16,000 other cases and 68 deaths were reported in Benin, Guinea, Mali, Niger and Senegal.

The UN has sought to slash deaths from measles by 90 per cent in the decade between 2000 and 2010, but the world body’s agencies stressed that if nothing is done to counter the resurgence of the disease, progress made so far will be reversed.

“The funding gap must be met so that countries can continue to undertake large-scale campaigns to prevent child deaths and sustain the gains,” Mr. Sambo of WHO said. “Reaching the 2010 goal will also require strengthening routine immunization and disease surveillance systems to rapidly detect and control outbreaks.”

Immunization and follow-up vaccination campaigns, funding permitting, are planned this year in Burkina Faso, Congo, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo.

“Our work is not over. We need a sustained political and financial commitment to fight this leading killer of children. We cannot drop our guard,” said UNICEF’s Mr. Rotigliano.

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