Transcript: Measles Initiative experts preview latest global measles data and announce new measles and rubella plan

Atlanta, Geneva, New York, Washington, DC

April 23, 2012


Alexis Krieg

Operator: I would now like to turn the conference over to Christine McNabb.

Christine McNabb: Good.  Thank you very much, Jeff.  Good afternoon, here from Geneva, and good morning to those of you in the United States.  Thanks to all of you for joining this news conference, today.  My name is Christine McNabb.  I am a consultant working with what is now called the Measles and Rubella Initiative.  We are a partnership, aiming to ensure no child dies of Measles or born with Congenital Rubella Syndrome.  I hope that you all received the media materials, which include a Partnership news release, the Atlantic article, and the new Measles and Rubella global strategic plan.  We are also video equipped for broadcasters, and photographs, which will be available, and I am reminding all of you about the strict embargo on these materials, which includes, obviously, the materials from the Atlantic until 01GMP+1 tonight.  So, that’s 001 London time, tonight.  Before introducing the speakers, this is what you can expect this afternoon.  Our speakers will each give brief statements. Following the statements, the lines will open for journalists’ questions, and as the operator said, he will be managing that.  We will then take the questions one by one.  Can I ask that when you ask your question, that you state your name, your media affiliation and the speaker who you are directing the question to.  But without further ado, it’s a pleasure to introduce our speakers this afternoon and this morning, in the order of speaking.  First on the line from UNICEF in New York, it is a pleasure to introduce Mr. Anthony Lake, who is the Executive Director of UNICEF.  Here, in Geneva, at World Health Organization headquarters is Dr. Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele.  He is the Director of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals here at WHO.  Also in New York, we have Dr. Rebecca Martin.  She is the Director of the Global Immunization Division at the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.  In Washington at the American Red Cross, is David Meltzer.  He is the Senior Vice President for the International Services of the ARC, and also in New York, is Kathy Calvin.  She is the Chief Executive Officer of the United Nations Foundation.  Speakers, welcome to all of you.  Let’s get started, and I would like to invite Mr. Anthony Lake to begin.

Anthony Lake: Thank you very much, and good morning, everybody.  Let me begin on a personal note.  I had Measles.  I remember it vividly, and unhappily.  For me, there was good news and bad news.  The good news was that I didn’t have to go to school.  The bad news was that I was in a dark room for some days, and it hurt.  But I want to emphasize that while for me it was painful, for 139,000 people every year, mostly in the developing world, it is fatal.  And that’s a big deal.  So, similarly today, we are all going to be reporting some good news and some bad news.  The very good news is that while in 1980, Measles killed 2 ½ million people a year, by 2000, that number had dropped to around half a million.  And I am very pleased to announce that in 2010, the number of people dying every year from Measles has declined further by 74%, since 2000, as I said, down to around 139,000.  To put it differently, in 2000, Measles accounted for 5% of all children dying under the age of five.  And in 2010, that was down to 1.5%, which accounts for nearly a quarter of the progress that we’ve made towards achieving today’s millennium development goal for reducing child mortality.  So, this has been a tremendous success.  Measles vaccinations campaigns currently reach about 95% of all children, and what this shows is that these campaigns can succeed, even in the poorest countries and in the most remote communities.  Really, this is one of the most remarkable victories in the history of public health.  But just as that is the good news, the bad news is that every day, Measles still claim 382 lives, everyday, the vast majority of them children under five.  And every one of them could have been saved by two doses of a 22 cent vaccine.  So, it’s simply wrong; it’s unjust that we can save those remaining lives, and we aren’t.  Those of us living in wealthy nations are shocked at the idea that a child could die from Measles, and it should be, it simply should be no different in poor and middle-income countries.  The new data that will be published in the Atlantic tomorrow shows that our progress in reducing measle deaths was the greatest between 2000 and 2008, and unfortunately, since then, the rate of progress has slowed.  And in the last two years, we have seen outbreaks in Africa, South Asia and even in Europe, when tens of thousands, I believe it is, yes, people still get Measles, and I would emphasize, with very few deaths.  What happens is that, and I’m going to sound here as if the Dr. before my name possibly had real value rather than being a mere PhD, but what happens that the Measles weaken the immunization system for a period of some weeks, and if you have a very good health care system, then you survive, and if you have a lousy health care system, you can be killed by the complications.  So we have to ramp up our efforts, and we can.  And the reason we know we can is that, for example, in India, which accounted for around half of measle deaths in 2010, they were only in that year starting to implement a two dose Measles vaccination campaign. The rollout will be completed in 2013, and should greatly contribute to progress.  Second, the GAVI Alliance is continuing support for Measles, and is committed to supporting the introduction of a combined Measles/Rubella, which I used to know as German Measles, vaccine in 52 more countries, and finally, the Measles and Rubella initiative, which brings together the World Health Organization, the US Center for Disease Control, the American Red Cross, the UN Foundation and UNICEF, is absolutely committed to seeing this route to victory, and we damn well will.  Thank you.

Christine McNabb: Thank you very much, Dr. Lake.  And I now introduce Dr. Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele here at WHO to make a statement.

Dr. Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele:    Good afternoon from Geneva.  At WHO, we are very proud to join other partners of the Measles and Rubella Initiative for these important announcements.  The achievement of 74% reduction in global Measles deaths between 2000 and 2010, as we just heard,   the most [0:08:08 – Indiscernible] that when a country fully implements the Measles control strategies, death from Measles drops rapidly and everywhere.  And we see in the first decade that close to 9.5 million lives were saved, thanks to Measles [0:08:28 – Indiscernible] Immunizations given to children during the vaccination campaign and routine health services.  But, as we just heard, the goal of 90% reduction in Measles mortality by 2010 was not met.  Estimates show than in 2010, about 19 million infants, 19 million infants, most of them in South Sahara Africa and in Southeast Asia, did not receive Measles vaccine, and there were large outbreaks here and there, including in Africa and in several countries in Asia, [0:09:13 – Indiscernible] and Europe.  But we have reasons to be optimistic that the goal of 95% mortality reduction due to Measles will be achieved by 2015, and that we can make quite the progress to eliminate Measles and Rubella by 2017.  We have seen the great progress made in China that has led to all of that region, western specifically, to be close to eliminating Measles in the very near future.  We have seen India [0:09:59 – Indiscernible], because that’s where we have most of the Measles death these days, and we have also seen several outbreaks in South Africa are being now controlled through the mass immunization activities.  Another reason to be optimistic is that the new global Measles and Rubella specific plan provides a great roadmap to eliminate both Measles and Rubella by 2030.  The addition of Rubella is really a game changer, because we will have a week to [0:10:40 – Indiscernible] the vaccination of all children under 15 years of age, the combined Measles and Rubella vaccine.  So, this is a strong partnership that we with the Initiative, with adequate resources and the political will, including by the countries themselves, we really can stop children from dying from Measles and [0:11:08 – Indiscernible] the [0:11:11 – Indiscernible].  And we can protect also the world against Rubella and the devastation of Congenital Rubella Syndrome.  And we can do this with a vaccine that is really affordable by most countries, including the poorest countries.  I would like to finish by saying that this reaches more than 180 countries in every region of the world by participating in the first ever world immunization week.  Parents and care providers are encouraged to check the immunization status of their children and assure that they receive not just Measles and Rubella vaccines, but all the recommended vaccines.  We know that prevention is better than cure, and vaccines certainly represent the best way to help prevention out there.  Thank you very much.

Christine McCann: Thank you very much, Dr. Okwo-Bele.  And I now give the floor to Dr. Rebecca Martin of the CDC.

Dr. Rebecca Martin: Good afternoon.  As we heard from Dr. Okwo-Bele, in 2010 with 19 million children not vaccinated with the measle containing vaccine, we do know how to do this.  And we have a Measles strategic plan.  The new Measles and Rubella strategic plan is a blueprint that is drawn on the experiences from Measles control efforts, which can eventually lead to the elimination of Measles and now the elimination of Rubella and prevention of Congenital Rubella Syndrome.  What is new in the plan is what it includes and targets Rubella and Congenital Rubella Syndrome.  It also looks at how we bring together the importance of engaging the public, to build confidence in immunizations and create demand for immunizations, something we are seeing lagging in many countries in the world.  There is a funding shortfall for the efforts in this area, and the global community must step forward to put money to ensure that the systems are in place to make sure that every child can be vaccinated and has the right to be vaccinated.  Rubella is the only cause of Congenital Rubella Syndrome, which is a compilation of congenital malformations.  Measles is a serious and potentially fatal disease, but will return when it has the opportunity to do so.  We have seen financial consequences in the United States from importations of Measles virus.  In the U.S., costs have ranged between $200,000 up to $800,000 to investigate and contain Measles outbreaks.  This is a large cost to society.  While we may not see the deaths, there are great costs in hospitalizations, as well.  Each of these efforts are outbreaks that we have seen, have started due to an importation into the United States, as well.  In many countries, to the overwhelming success we have seen with the immunization programs, have led to the decreased recognition and potentially the risk perception on the severe outcomes of these diseases, but they are always there and will come back if given the opportunity.  We have seen what the outbreaks in Europe and the U.S., how quickly and easily Measles can be transmitted.  In a plane ride, it can be in one country to another.  In 2011, 90%, or 200 of the 222 cases in the United States, were associated with importations from countries.  46 of these were from the European region.  The source of 22 cases still could not be determined.  However, we do find that there are still importations.  I was just recently in Haiti this week for the launch of the Measles/Rubella and Polio campaign. The main region of the Americas eliminated Measles in 2000, but in order to keep prevention, in order to keep the elimination, they still need to vaccinate, and they recognize the need for this and conducted a large campaign, which is going on this week during their Week of the Americas immunization.  The U.S. Center for Disease Control preventions role in global Measles efforts and elimination has focused on providing the purchase of vaccine, scientific and technical guidance, as well as providing technical experts in advisory committees.  CDC scientists are also playing an important role in new Measles and Rubella elimination efforts, and the CDC and the U.S. government are committed towards the efforts in accelerated Measles control and elimination.  Thank you.

Christine McNabb:Thank you very much, Dr. Martin.  And I now give the floor to Dr. David Meltzer at the American Red Cross.

David Meltzer: Thank you very much, and thank you to all of our colleagues for the extraordinary collaboration on the Measles and Rubella Initiative.  The American Red Cross is honored to join with our partners to share in announcing this new global strategy, and another great achievement regarding the impact the initiative has had around the world on saving children’s lives.  One of our other partners has spoken to the numbers, what impact and challenges this new data and strategy has on our goal of reducing and eventually eliminating Measles and Rubella.  I would like to talk to the power of public/private partnership.  The truth is, one organization cannot solve this problem alone.  It really does take all of us.  The Measles and Rubella Initiative certainly demonstrates how partnerships can successfully address one of the world’s toughest health challenges, and while we could celebrate the success, we are also reminded that our success is extremely fragile.  Continued partnership among governments, NGOs, donor countries and the private sector are vital.  Much of this success is, of course, due to the hard work and dedication of the communities themselves.  Like the Red Cross, itself, the Measles and Rubella Initiative is only as strong as its community volunteers.  The American Red Cross will continue to leverage the capacity of its partners in the Red Cross network and their network of millions of volunteers to combat these two diseases.  These volunteers, trusted neighbors and community members literally go door-to-door, explaining the importance of receiving routine immunizations and participating in campaigns.  And they serve as the backbone of successful campaigns.  Without social mobilization, beating this disease is simply impossible.  We recognize that people still die unnecessarily from Measles, and we need sustained donor funding and political will to be triumphant in our goals.  The virus is resilient, and if we drop our guard, this disease will regain a foothold, and we will lose the progress that we have made.  And just as important as we recognize the accomplishments, that we also continue to recognize the threat, and stay committed in our efforts.  On behalf of the American Red Cross, I would like to again express my gratitude to our partners at WHO, UNICEF, CDC and the UN Foundation, as well as our other supporting partners, for the collaboration on this very critical initiative, and can tell you that on behalf of the American Red Cross, again, that you have our unyielding commitment to continue this work.  Thank you very much.

Christine McNabb: Thank you so much, David Meltzer.  And I now give the floor to Kathy Calvin of the UN Foundation.

Kathy Calvin: Thank you very much, and thanks to all of our partners.  The UN Foundation is proud to have been a member of the Measles Initiative, now the Measles and Rubella Initiative for the past eleven years, and we’re pleased to see the new strategy which we think will make a big difference.  You know, with all the accomplishments this partnership has achieved, what really matters is the numbers of lives that are being saved everyday.  As Tony pointed out, when this initiative was formed in 2001, more than 500,000 people, mostly young children, died of Measles every year.  And now, that number is less than 150,000.  But while this progress is remarkable, it’s still not enough, especially since we have the tools to eliminate Measles entirely.  Today, we are at a critical juncture.  At the same time, we are seeing outbreaks in Europe and Africa, most countries in Asia, including China, the Philippines and Vietnam, are extremely close to eliminating Measles by their target date at the end of this year.  That will be a tremendous achievement.  But a shortfall in funding is preventing us from reaching more children, and it’s one of the reasons that we are seeing an increase in outbreaks.  We currently need an additional $112 million, if we are to achieve the global Measles and Rubella goals by 2015, and as David pointed out, we need everyone, from world leaders to individuals, to step up their commitment to stop Measles and Rubella, if we are going to meet our goal.  We know the problems on a large scale, such as these two diseases, can be solved, if we respond to them at scale.  We saw how the government of India worked with the UN and other partners to successfully stop Polio, a major accomplishment, given all the challenges.  With that momentum, combined with political will from the top, India is now poised to stop Measles and Rubella.  As Tony pointed out, this needs to be done, and I second him in saying we damn well will.  Thank you.

Christine McNabb: Thank you very much, Kathy Calvin.  With that then, I would like to thank all of the speakers, and now ask that Jeff, the Operator, open the lines for journalists’ questions.