Bangladesh Launches Largest Ever Measles Vaccination Campaign

After Major Success In Africa, Measles Initiative Expands Support To Asia Where Measles Burden Remains High

Washington, D.C.

February 22, 2006


Megan Rabbitt

The Bangladesh measles vaccination campaign to be held for three weeks between February 25 and March 16 will mark the Measles Initiative’s expansion into Asia after recently celebrating the success of the Initiative’s original goal of reducing measles deaths by vaccinating 200 million children in more than 40 African countries, and preventing 1 million children from dying from measles over five years. The Government of Bangladesh launches the largest ever measles campaign next week in an effort to reduce measles deaths and morbidity with support from the Measles Initiative, a partnership led by the American Red Cross, UN Foundation, World Health Organization, UNICEF and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The campaign will be the largest public health undertaking in the history of Bangladesh; approximately 33.5 million children between the ages of nine months and 10 years will be immunized by 50,000 skilled vaccinators and 750,000 mobilized volunteers, through more than 100,000 schools and 150,000 Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) centers. When completed, the Bangladesh campaign will be the largest measles vaccination campaign in history. The largest campaign carried out to date was in Nigeria with 28.5 million children vaccinated.

This is the second phase of the measles campaign in Bangladesh. Phase One of the campaign took place in September 2005 where an estimated 1.37 million children were vaccinated against measles in the Bogra and Rajshai districts as well as in Rajshahi City Corporation. The campaign coverage was 93%.

During Phase Two of the campaign, all children between nine months and under 10 years old attending school will be vaccinated in their respective educational institutions during the first week of the campaign and children outside of the schooling system will be vaccinated at the regular EPI sites in the subsequent two weeks. There will be one session for the measles campaign in each routine EPI site during the campaign’s three-week period. Routine EPI will not be interrupted and will run, throughout the campaign, as per the annual plan.

Measles is the fifth leading cause of childhood death in Bangladesh where an estimated 20,000 children die every year from the disease and related complications. In addition, according to current routine immunization coverage data, nearly 1.5 million children in each birth cohort do not develop immunity to measles. Despite the availability of a safe and highly effective vaccine for over forty years, millions of children globally still remain at risk. Though it typically costs US $1 to vaccinate a child against measles, it costs only US $0.40 in Bangladesh, thanks primarily to contributions from the Government of Bangladesh.


“Right now, approximately 20,000 Bangladeshi children die per year of measles – that’s 54 children every day dying from a vaccine-preventable disease,” said UN Foundation Chairman Ted Turner. “The Measles Initiative began with the goal to reduce measles deaths in Africa. Measles cases and deaths in Africa have dropped by 60 percent since 1999 largely due to the Initiative’s efforts and improvements in routine vaccination campaigns. The Initiative partners will now use this same model to support governments and countries in Asia, including Bangladesh, to help stem the tide of these needless deaths.”

Supporting the Government of Bangladesh is the Measles Initiative, a partnership originally formed in 2001 to eliminate measles deaths in 36 sub-Saharan African countries. This year begins the Initiative’s expansion into Asia after recently celebrating the success of exceeding the Initiative’s original goal of reducing measles deaths by vaccinating 200 million children in more than 40 African countries, and preventing 1 million children from dying from measles over five years. The financial and technical support provided by the Measles Initiative and the commitment of African governments have resulted in an enormous public health success story; measles deaths have fallen 60 percent between 1999 and 2004 in Africa. This decline provides important progress toward the reaching the goal of reducing measles deaths by 90% by 2010. The Initiative now looks at replicating the success achieved in Africa to Asia. Other measles vaccination campaigns outside of Africa include Banda Aceh, Indonesia (emergency phase after the 2004 tsunami), Nepal and Maldives.

In accordance with the current WHO and UNICEF Global Measles Reduction strategy, the Government of Bangladesh developed and adopted a Plan of Action to control measles. Guided by this Plan, the National Steering Committee on Polio Eradication and Measles Control in Bangladesh decided to conduct a nation-wide measles catch-up campaign. Along with ongoing routine measles immunization, this campaign will significantly reduce childhood deaths due to measles. The World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and CDC are providing technical assistance for planning, implementation and evaluation for the Bangladesh campaign monitoring and evaluation. Generous financial support through the United Nations Foundation and the American Red Cross has enabled Bangladesh to conduct this historic campaign.

Still photos and b-roll are available from Phase I of the Bangladesh campaign last September. Please visit the press room at or contact Julie Irby at

Launched in February 2001, the Measles Initiative ( is a long-term commitment to reduce and control measles deaths globally. The Initiative is led by the American Red Cross, United Nations Foundation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF and the World Health Organization. The global goal is to reduce measles deaths by 90% globally by 2010 compared to 2000 estimates. Since 2001, the Measles Initiative has mobilized more than $150 million and supported more than 40 African countries in implementing high-quality measles vaccination campaigns. Largely due to the technical and financial support of the Measles Initiative and commitment from African governments, more than 200 million children in Africa have been vaccinated against measles and 1 million lives have been saved. Measles cases and deaths have also dropped by 60% since 1999, thanks to improvements in routine and supplementary immunization activities in Africa. Because of the Measles Initiative’s success in Africa, the program has now expanded its activities into Asia where the measles burden remains high. Other key players in the fight against measles includes the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Becton, Dickinson and Company (BD), Vodafone Group Foundation, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI Alliance) and countries and governments affected by measles.

Measles, a disease barely remembered by most Americans, is one of the leading vaccine-preventable childhood killers in the world. In 2003, more than 500,000 people – 470,000 of them children under the age of 5 – died from the disease. Half of these deaths were in Africa alone. A safe and highly effective vaccine has been available for more than forty years, and it costs less than US $1 to vaccinate a child against measles. Despite this, millions of children still remain at risk.

Next steps for the Measles Initiative include additional ‘follow-up’ vaccination campaigns in Africa, expanding vaccination campaigns to high measles-burden countries in Asia, and continuing the successful “integrated child health campaigns” in which the Measles Initiative distributes not only measles vaccines, but also insecticide-treated bed-nets (for malaria prevention), vitamin A, de-worming medication, and polio vaccines.

For more information about the Measles Initiative, log on to To make a financial contribution, call 1-800 HELP NOW or to make a secure online donation, log on to


Julie Irby, American Red Cross, Washington, DC +1 202 439 0722 or Brian Hatchell (in Bangladesh) 0094 77 357 6417 or

Drew Strobel (in Bangladesh) 0066 98 92 5074

Elizabeth Alexander, UNF, Washington, DC +1 202 778 1622

Erica Kochi, UNICEF New York +1 212 326 7785

Steven Stewart, CDC, Atlanta +1 404-639-8327

Kirsty McIvor, UNICEF Bangladesh +880173043478

Hayatee Hasan, WHO Geneva +41 22 791 2103

Mari Tikkanen, WHO South-East Asia Region +91 98 104 01 227

To make a financial contribution, call 1-800 HELP NOW or to make a secure online donation, log on to