February 5, 2020 / 12:16 AM / 15 days ago

Measles vaccine drive aims to protect 45 million children in Africa, Asia

South Sudanese health workers prepare to administer vaccination against measles to children during a campaign in Juba, South Sudan February 4, 2020. REUTERS/Samir Bol

LONDON (Reuters) - Up to 45 million children in seven developing countries will be immunized against measles in a series of major vaccination campaigns to try to halt a global surge in the viral disease, the GAVI vaccine alliance said on Wednesday.

Measles cases have risen dramatically in all parts of the world in recent years. The World Health Organization said in December that measles had infected nearly 10 million people in 2018 and killed 140,000, mostly children, in what it described as “an outrage.”

“While the headlines might focus on rising cases in Europe and the United States, it is sadly still the case that the vast majority of measles deaths are happening in the world’s poorest countries,” said Seth Berkley, GAVI’s chief executive, who gave a briefing to reporters in London.

The campaigns will be carried out by governments in Bangladesh, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nepal, Somalia and South Sudan and funded by partners including GAVI, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations children’s fund UNICEF.

The aim is to reach some 45 million children in six months.

Provisional data for 2019 up to November showed a three-fold increase in case numbers compared with the same period in 2018, the WHO said.

“Measles cases rose alarmingly in 2019, affecting hundreds of thousands of children and claiming many young lives,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF’s executive director. “These measles outbreaks have taught us that we need to stay vigilant. We can’t afford to wait and watch.”

Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Cynthia Osterman

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