Global Measles Death Rate Drops The Measles Initiative was launched in 2001, and new numbers show that deaths from the disease have fallen nearly 60 percent — 75 percent in Africa alone.
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Global Measles Death Rate Drops

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Global Measles Death Rate Drops

Global Measles Death Rate Drops

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Good news about cancer yesterday. Today, measles. Global health officials say death rates plummeting around the world. New numbers showed deaths from the disease fallen nearly 60 percent and in Africa 75 percent.


That is due to a worldwide measles initiative; that's an international effort launched five years ago. I talked to one of the coordinators, Edward Hoekstra. He's also the senior health adviser at UNICEF. And I asked him earlier what the 75 percent reduction means in real numbers.

Mr. EDWARD HOEKSTRA (UNICEF): Now in Africa that at about 1,000 kids are not dying every day because of a disease that is totally preventable.

BRAND: One thousand children a day, and totally preventable by vaccines. This was a vaccination initiative.

Mr. HOEKSTRA: We have a simple solution. We get them measles shots. And we actually nowadays also give them bed nets against malaria. The good thing was that people all wanted this vaccine in Africa.

BRAND: Well, was that the key, that it was - that this program was welcomed, unlike many AIDS initiatives, where it's very difficult in some cases, to get public health initiatives running AIDS in certain parts of Africa.

Mr. HOEKSTRA: I think this is key, because measles, although in the Western world is not a big issue, but in countries like Africa, where there's a lack of access to health care, we actually see a major demand. Everybody knows somebody who died from measles.

BRAND: With the Measles Initiative, is there one thing that you learned in terms of carrying out this program and its success that can be translated into other public health campaigns?

Mr. HOEKSTRA: What UNICEF learnt was we can't really do it. It's the governments and the people, the community that needs to implement these programs. So as long as we don't listen to the community, what their real needs are, we're going to develop wonderful programs here in the West. But they might not always have a good success. The program has gone much faster than we had planned, basically, and now with the combination with bed nets...

BRAND: Bed nets being the netting to prevent bites from mosquitoes.

Mr. HOEKSTRA: Yes. It's an insecticide-treated bed net. And I just came back from Diaz(ph), Congo, and India(ph), Congo; we were doing a campaign. Unfortunately we did not have enough bed nets from the global funds. We could only provide bed nets for kids under three years, because we didn't have enough bed nets. The biggest discussion in the country was why couldn't we deliver for all the kids under five.

BRAND: What are the chances, Mr. Hoekstra, of you inoculating children against measles and preventing them from dying of measles? And yet, they're still at risk of dying from another disease, diarrhea, things, as you say, that are easily preventable.

Mr. HOEKSTRA: Together with the governments, UNICEF together with WHO, worked to set up a plan, and actually as we speak most of the countries in Africa are making these plans, so that they can also address things like diarrhea, like you said, and pneumonia, major causes of deaths among kids under five. And this child survival plan is high on the agenda of UNICEF. And I think you'll hear more positive news in the coming years about how this will be rolled out over Africa and other places where there are great needs.

BRAND: Edward Hoekstra is a senior health adviser at UNICEF and one of the coordinators of the worldwide measles initiative. Mr. Hoekstra, thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. HOEKSTRA: Thank you.

BRAND: And stay with us. There is more ahead on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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