UNICEF backs measles vaccination campaign in Bangladesh

More than 20 million Bangladeshi children will be vaccinated against measles over the next two weeks as part of a campaign backed by UNICEF to try to eradicate the deadly disease in the South Asian nation, the UN News Service reported Feb. 15.

An estimated 50,000 health care workers and 600,000 volunteers and non-governmental organization staff members have been recruited for the immunization project, which is slated to run until Feb. 28.

All Bangladeshi children ages 9 months to 5 years will be given the measles vaccine while all children younger than 5 will also be given two drops of the polio vaccine, UNICEF stated in a press release issued Feb. 13.

This will be the first major nationwide campaign against measles in Bangladesh since 2005-06, when about 35 million children were vaccinated.

The number of measles outbreaks in the South Asian nation has fallen sharply since then, with only one occurring in each of the past two years, compared with 27 in the first two months of 2006.

But UNICEF officials said that about 25 percent to a third of young children remain at risk, especially those born since the last immunization campaign. Children who already received a vaccine will receive a second dose, which is recommended to ensure full immunization.

Carol de Rooy, the agency's representative in Bangladesh, said these kinds of mass vaccination campaigns could produce significant reductions in death and disease rates.

“It is unfortunate that measles continues to kill children when such avoidable deaths can easily be prevented through immunization,” she said. “I call on all the parents to bring their children to the immunization sites so they will be protected against this child-killer disease.”

Duangvadee Sungkhobol, the World Health Organization’s representative in Bangladesh, said measles remains the leading cause of vaccine-preventable childhood death and disability.

“Maintaining good immunization coverage and conducting periodic follow-up campaigns reduces measles cases and deaths considerably,” Sungkhobol said.

UNICEF and WHO adopted a joint global plan in 2001 for reducing the number of deaths from measles and the objective for Bangladesh is to cut measles mortality by 90 percent by this year in comparison with 2000.

In 2008 an estimated 164,000 people — nearly all children under younger than 5 — died from the disease.