The Measles Initiative Launched

Five Leading Global Public Health Organizations Announce A Commitment To Save 1.2 Million African Children From Measles As Part Of A Global Effort To Reduce Child Mortality

Washington, D.C.

February 6, 2002


Alexis Krieg

Five leading global public health organizations announced today a new partnership that will focus on immunizing children against measles to save 1.2 million lives in Africa, as part of a global effort to reduce child mortality.

The Measles Initiative is a long-term commitment to control measles deaths in Africa by supporting immunization services, including vaccinating 200 million children through both mass and follow-up campaigns in up to 36 Sub-Saharan African countries.  The Partners are also exploring potential support to reduce measles mortality in countries outside Africa.

The Measles Initiative is a US-based partnership that includes:  American Red Cross, United Nations Foundation (UN Foundation), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),  United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and World Health Organization (WHO). Africa partners include national Ministries of Health, national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies with support from the International Federation of the Red Cross, and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs).  In the battle to reduce mortality from measles, partnership is crucial since each player brings a different strength, experience, and field of expertise.

“Bringing these interests together and forging partnerships for progress is what the UN Foundation is all about,” said Timothy E. Wirth, President, United Nations Foundation. “It is increasingly clear that every citizen, every sector and every nation has an interest in working together to promote progress in health, human rights, the economy and the environment.  Those who think progress in these areas is elusive need look no further than this very tangible, impressive collaboration.”

In February of 2001, American Red Cross convened a meeting with other public health organizations. American Red Cross, CDC, UNICEF, UN Foundation, WHO, and others met to discuss the growing problem of measles in Africa.  “We looked at problems that afflict the world and we found that measles was an enormous one. What is so tragic about the deaths is that they are preventable,” said David McLaughlin, Chairman, Board of Governors, American Red Cross.  “The mission of the Red Cross is to help relieve suffering at home and around the world.  Leading our global partners in the fight against measles gives us an opportunity to do that on a big scale.”

In order to accomplish the goal of saving 1.2 million child lives in Africa over the next five years, Partners will support immunization services including measles campaigns.  A measles campaign is a coordinated effort of health workers, volunteers, and communities to ensure that within a short period of time vaccination teams reach every child.  Partners also support related activities including training, safe-injection practices and disease surveillance.

The campaigns are carried out for several days for children under 15 years of age.  Follow-up campaigns occur three to four years after the initial mass campaigns for children under five years of age who were born since the first mass campaign.

A combination of routine vaccination and mass campaigns has been proven to be an effective strategy to eliminate measles deaths.

  • Before measles vaccine became available, virtually all children contracted measles, an estimated 135 million cases and about 7-8 million deaths occurred globally each year.
  • However, by 1998, approximately 82% of the world’s children under one year of age were reported to have received measles vaccine, preventing an estimated two million deaths.
  • More recently in Latin America, deaths caused by measles have been reduced to almost zero after a series of mass vaccination campaigns conducted during the 1990’s.

The campaign strategy was proven effective in more than50 countries in Latin America where deaths caused by measles have been reduce to almost zero after a series of mass vaccination campaigns conducted during the 1990’s.  Supplementing routine measles vaccination with mass campaigns is now part of the recommended strategy of WHO and UNICEF for developing countries.

Campaigns in 15 African countries have demonstrated that children can be vaccinated against measles for less than one dollar per child.

The dollar per child number factors in the cost of all the resources needed for a mass measles campaign – from the vaccines, syringes and health worker costs to mobilizing the population to get their children vaccinated.

UNICEF believes that every child has the right to be immunized and protected from measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases.  “Every minute, one child dies from measles in Africa.  This is unacceptable,” said Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF.  “Measles vaccination campaigns will reverse this trend and give children a good start in life.”

As Partnership strategies were being developed over the last year, mass measles campaigns were carried out in eight African countries, vaccinating more than 20 million children and preventing more than 140,000 deaths.  First-year countries include:  Tanzania, Uganda, Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, Cameroon, Ghana, and Benin.  The partners anticipate supporting measles vaccination in 12 countries for the second year, vaccinating 53 million children and preventing over 90,000 deaths.

The Measles Initiative is focused initially in Africa where there is the highest risk of death and the most measles deaths.  Measles Initiative Partners also work on a wide-range of health initiatives around the world, including vaccination services and measles control outside of Africa.

The Measles Initiative is a long-term commitment to control measles deaths in Africa by vaccinating 200 million children, preventing 1.2 million deaths over five years.  Leading this effort are the American Red Cross, United Nations Foundation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, and United Nations Children’s Fund.  Other key players in the fight against measles include the International Federation of the Red Cross, and countries and governments affected by measles.  For more information, or to support the Measles Initiative, log on to


Created in 1998 with a $1 billion gift from entrepreneur and philanthropist Ted Turner, the United Nations Foundation builds and implements public-private partnerships in support of the United Nation’s (UN) efforts to address the most pressing humanitarian, socioeconomic, and environmental challenges facing our world today.