Friday, 23 May 2003

Geneva (Fides Service) – According to the World Health Organisation every year about 750,000 children, half of them in Africa, die of measles. Now thanks to a strategy of total immunisation it is possible to prevent these deaths. Despite the availability of a cheap, safe and effective vaccine, in the last 12 months more than 30 million children contracted measles which is still one of the main causes of infant mortality. A strategy recommended by WHO and UNICEF to reduce the death rate has so far had effect in seven southern African countries: Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. If properly put into practice it could prevent the deaths of at least 2.3 million children in Africa in the next 10 years.
During the World Health Assembly on May 24 a request will be made for help, without further delay, to reach the objective proposed by UNGADS (special session on infancy dedicated by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2002) and by the Millennium Development, also UN, aimed respectively at reducing the spread of the disease by one third by 2110 and by 50% within 2005 compared to 1999.
A dose of vaccine costs only 0.25 US$ including the syringe. WHO and UNICEF estimate that 200 million dollars are needed to put into practice in the next three years, the strategy of total immunisation against measles in 45 countries, which count 95% of the deaths. The funds necessary serve for vaccine, safe sterilised material, specialist equipment, transport and personnel to strengthen normal immunisation systems. AP (Fides Service 23/5/2003 EM lines 20 Words 273 )

Measles is a infectious viral disease spread all over the world. It strikes school age and pre-school age children and has a benign evolution but may also have serious complications. The disease is highly contagious and is transmitted from the sick to the healthy through infected droplets diffused by coughing and sneezing; it is not transmitted by animals and there is no such thing as a healthy carrier. The disease has maximum incidence at the end of Winter and during the Spring.
Besides classical forms it can also show attenuated, atypical or extremely serious forms in function of the immunity state of the person. Diagnosis of measles can be confirmed by the search for the virus in nasal secretion, blood or urine and successively by an anti-body counts repeated during convalescence.
Measles can cause respiratory, neurological and at times even rare heart and ocular complications. Treatment is symptomatic with anti-fever drugs and cough sedatives. Cortisone and antibiotics are used for complications.
WHO and UNICEF recommend giving Vitamin A to patients between 6 months and 2 years hospitalised for measles or ensuing complications, especially if there exist factors of risk. Vaccination is highly effective and produces permanent immunity. It is not harmful when given to children already vaccinated or who have had the disease. Protection is obtained 7 days after inoculation. The vaccine is highly sensitive to light and heat and loses its effect if improperly stored. Preventive treatment must be given also to HIV positive children even if they have already been vaccinated. (Fides Service 23/5/2003)