In an effort to tackle the increase in global measles oubtreaks, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance has launched vaccination campaigns that will reach up to 45 million children in seven developing countries over the next six months, the organization announced Wednesday.
Partnering with the Measles and Rubella Initiative (MR&I), the new series of campaigns aim to vaccinate children under the age of 5, who are most vulnerable to the deadly but preventable disease.
While vaccine coverage caused a significant decline in global measles cases in 2016, reported cases have been on the rise ever since. There were nearly 360,000 measles cases reported in 2018, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In 2019, the number of cases jumped to 430,000, with the most cases affecting people living in developing countries.
“The measles vaccine is safe, effective, and low cost — there is no reason children should still be dying of this disease,” Gavi CEO Dr. Seth Berkley said in a press release. “While the headlines might focus on rising cases in Europe and the US, it is sadly still the case that the vast majority of measles deaths are happening in the world’s poorest countries, where poor health systems mean children are often left to fight the disease without treatment or support.”
Measles is an extremely contagious viral infection spread through coughing and sneezing. Symptoms may include fever, sore throat, runny nose, inflamed eyes, and a rash, although most symptoms do not manifest until 10 to 12 days after infection. Because of this, the disease can spread quickly and easily.
With a 90% infection rate, any single person with measles will infect at least two others on average. There is no available treatment — vaccination is the most effective way to prevent infection and stop the disease from spreading.
Severe cases of measles are more common among children in developing countries and are often exacerbated by malnourishment or weakened immune systems. In such cases, children can experience severe respiratory infections, blindness, encephalitis, severe diarrhea, and dehydration.
“That’s why these vaccination campaigns are so important, protecting the next generation so they can survive and thrive in later life,” Berkley continued. “The use of tailored and targeted approaches in these campaigns is vital to ensure we leave no child behind.”
The vaccination campaigns will target Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nepal, Somalia, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic, all of which are developing countries with large populations of children under 5 years old.
In addition to funding the seven campaigns, Gavi supports and encourages countries in the developing world to introduce routine immunization programs, with the hopes that all previously unreached children will be immunized and protected against measles and other preventable diseases.
Gavi previously worked with MR&I to help vaccinate 54 million children worldwide amidst multiple global measles outbreaks between 2012 and 2018.
Through Gavi’s support, more than 118 million children were vaccinated by routine immunization programs within the last two decades, and 524 million children were protected against the measles through various vaccination programs.
“Measles is a devastating disease that is causing severe sickness and taking lives,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a press release. “No matter where they live, vaccination helps children survive, thrive, and lead a long and healthy life. WHO is proud to be working with Gavi and partners to ensure lifesaving measles vaccines reach where they are needed most.”