40 million children left unprotected from one of world's most contagious diseases

TORONTO, April 28, 2016 /CNW/ - Insufficient funding for a global vaccination program has left 40 million children at risk of contracting measles, one of the world's most contagious diseases.

Measles is a leading cause of death among children worldwide. Twenty million people are affected by the disease each year, and 315 children are killed by measles complications every day, despite the fact that a safe, effective, and inexpensive vaccine has existed for over 50 years.

Since 2001, the Measles & Rubella Initiative (M&RI), which UNICEF co-founded, has worked to protect almost two billion children in 88 countries through vaccination. But last year, a funding shortfall of $38 million meant that 40 million of the world's most vulnerable children were left unvaccinated and at risk.

"In low-income countries, it costs less than two dollars to vaccinate a child against measles. Compare that to the cost of treatment – a household's entire income for one month in Ethiopia. You can't ask for a better investment in public health," says David Morley, President and CEO of UNICEF Canada. "We know how to keep children safe. We know what needs to be done. The challenge is getting the support we need to do it – and fast."

Targeted efforts resulted in an estimated 17.1 deaths prevented from 2000 to 2014

M&RI has proven to be one of the most successful global health programs to date. Between 2000 and 2014, vaccination programs run by UNICEF and its partners resulted in a 79 per cent reduction in global measles deaths. An estimated 17.1 million deaths were prevented – most of these in countries where children have poor access to medical care and are often malnourished.

"All countries have committed to eliminating measles by 2020 – and that's a great step forward. We know the Government of Canada recognizes the value of immunizations in saving lives and are encouraged by their support for eliminating measles completely.  We're pleased with Canada's $47 million contribution to the initiative since 2002," says Morley. "This year, we are aiming to ensure 373 million children around the world get vaccinated against measles. We encourage Canada to renew its life-saving funding, leadership and partnership to ensure this life-saving vaccine reaches the most vulnerable children."

Measles & Rubella Initiative aims to eliminate both diseases

M&RI provides essential technical expertise in the fight against measles, including the deployment of experts to work with Ministries of Health and in-country partners to implement vaccination campaigns, the mobilization of thousands of volunteers to raise awareness, and the use of surveys to identify pockets of unimmunized children that remain.

The Initiative also works to eliminate another deadly disease - rubella, which can be passed from a pregnant woman to her baby and lead to severe birth defects such as blindness, deafness, heart defects and mental retardation – if the baby survives at all. Globally, more than 100,000 babies are born each year with Congenital Rubella Syndrome, and six out of every ten babies in the world do not have access to the vaccine.

"Not only can we stop the spread of these two devastating diseases, we can eliminate them altogether, and possibly even in just over a decade," says Morley. "But it's going to take all of us working together to reach every child."

About the Measles & Rubella Initiative
The Measles & Rubella Initiative is a public private partnership founded in 2001 by UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United Nations Foundation, and the American Red Cross. M&RI supports all governments and communities to work towards global elimination of measles and rubella and to prevent the reintroduction and reestablishment of measles and rubella in countries that have achieved elimination. For more information about M&RI, please visit www.measlesrubellainitiative.org.

About UNICEF
UNICEF has saved more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization. We work tirelessly to help children and their families, doing whatever it takes to ensure children survive. We provide children with healthcare and immunization, clean water, nutrition and food security, education, emergency relief and more in developing countries.

UNICEF is supported entirely by voluntary donations and helps children regardless of race, religion or politics. As part of the UN, we are active in over 190 countries - more than any other organization. Our determination and our reach are unparalleled. Because nowhere is too far to go to help a child survive. For more information about UNICEF, please visit www.unicef.ca.

SOURCE UNICEF Canada

For further information: Stefanie Carmichael, UNICEF Canada, 416-482-6552 ext. 8866; 647-500-4320 (mobile), scarmichael@unicef.ca

RELATED LINKS
http://www.unicef.ca

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