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Recent measles cases in four states -- California, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Iowa -- highlight the growing number of unvaccinated adults and children living in the United States as well as the need to control the global spread of the disease.
While this highly contagious virus was eliminated from the Americas in 2002, imported cases trigger outbreaks among unvaccinated persons in the United States. Last year, the number of reported measles cases in the United States more than doubled (63, on average, to 140 total in 2008). Parents who choose not to vaccinate their children overlook the fact that measles is still common in many countries and kills an estimated 540 children each day.
Despite the fact that a safe and effective measles vaccine costs less than $1, parents in many developing countries do not have access to immunization services that would protect their children. Factors such as poverty, poor health systems and a lack of information make it difficult for families to secure preventative medical care.
"As long as measles remains an issue for one nation, it remains a threat to all," says Athalia Christie, senior technical advisor with the American Red Cross.
"Measles knows no borders but can be prevented worldwide for less than $1 per child,” says Andrea Gay, executive director of Children's Health, United Nations Foundation. “We must be steadfast in our efforts to reduce measles cases globally. As long as children remain unvaccinated, they are at risk."
The Measles Initiative -- a partnership led by the American Red Cross, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, United Nations Foundation, UNICEF, and the World Health Organization -- is working to address this problem. The Initiative, formed in 2001, has invested $670 million in measles control activities, helping to save an estimated 3.6 million lives. A strategy to reduce global measles mortality, which includes vaccinating all children before their first birthday through routine health services and mass campaigns, has been key to securing a 74 percent reduction in global measles deaths (2000-2007). More than 600 million children in 60 countries have been vaccinated through the Measles Initiative.
For additional information, visit www.measlesinitiative.org.
Source: American Red Cross