Measles Initiative vaccinates one billionth child

The Measles Initiative announced on Thursday that it has helped to vaccinate one billion children in over 60 developing countries since 2001.

The Measles Initiative, which was launched in 2001, is a partnership led by the United Nations Foundation, UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the American Red Cross and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The organization is focused on reducing measles mortality by 95 percent by 2015 on the path to the eventual eradication of measles.

The child who received the billionth measles vaccination was one of 3.5 million immunized in Mozambique this May.

"When we started the Measles Initiative 10 years ago, we knew that we would help save millions of lives, but we never imagined where the world's support would take us," David Meltzer, the senior vice president of international services with the American Red Cross, said. "With every dollar donated, we vaccinated another child. Across the globe, we stopped outbreaks, improved treatment and protected future generations from one of the world's deadliest diseases. This milestone in measles control is significant and improves the overall outlook for children's health around the world."

In 1980, before widespread vaccination, measles caused an estimated 2.6 million deaths per year. As immunization activities spearheaded by governments and the Measles Initiative have increased, global measles mortality has decreased 78 percent worldwide from 733,000 deaths in 2000 to 164,000 in 2008.

While the decrease in mortality is a significant achievement, the founding partners of the Measles Initiative warned that governments and the global health community should not rest or redirect their efforts and resources elsewhere.

"The steady march toward a measles-free world is now facing a setback," Dr. Brent Burkholder, the director of the CDC's global immunization division, said. "Outbreaks in Africa, a high number of deaths in India and global funding gaps threaten the gains made in the last 10 years and will hinder efforts to eradicate measles and achieve MDG4."

The Measles Initiative continues to appeal to donors and governments around the world to improve routine immunization and surveillance in developing countries. The organization estimates it will need approximately $212 million between 2012 and 2015 to meet its target goals.