The BBC reports that the number of measles deaths in the world has decreased from 757,000 to 242,000 – over the six year period, according to a World Health Organization report.
But the decrease in Africa is more dramatic: From 396,000 to 36,000 deaths each year.

The next step is to emphasize measles prevention in Asian countries.

The heroes in this are those sponsoring/funding the campaign, and the thousands of health workers who administered the vacines.

Leading the Measles Initiative efforts are the American Red Cross, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, United Nations Foundation, UNICEF and the World Health Organization.

This is a major breakthrough in public health that will get little or no publicity, but you should be aware of it.

People in the west think Measles is a harmless virus, yet those of us who were in medical school before measles vaccine was used remember the retardation caused by measles encephalitis, and the rare child who died from the disease.

But in Africa it was a lot worse. Children there die, probably because their bodies are weakened by malnutrition. I remember one terrible week where we lost four out of five children in one family (the 13 year old survived) despite antibiotics, IV’s and good nursing care.

Yet measles vaccine is expensive: we “cut” the dosage into thirds,(in some countries back then they “cut” the dosage into one fifth dose) so that we’d have enough for all the kids that came to our clinic. Once in awhile, a child who got the vaccine didn’t get full immunity, so got measles, but usually they had a mild case and didn’t die.

(FYI: The vaccine 30 years ago when it was still new cost five dollars for one dose; the government subsidized it down to one dollar for us to give; we charged moms five cents for the shot at baby clinics…).

Another problem with the vaccine is that it is a “live” attenuated (weakened) vaccine, so you have to keep it refrigerated, often in clinics/hospitals with frequent brownouts or no electricity at all.

We used kerosene refrigerators and took the vaccines into remote villages packed in ice in beer coolers.

Usually our clinics were “voluntary”: we encouraged vaccination by giving moms a hospital discount if their children got sick, and by giving out free vitamin syrup. We also funded village health workers (literate people who lived in the village who underwent six weeks training). Their job was to keep track of all the local families and kids, weighing kids, giving out advice for diet and hygiene, and giving out Rehydration solution for diarrhea, and other common medicines for minor illnesses.

We worked with our pastors and with the traditional healers, but in some areas the healers opposed and coerced mothers not to get the vaccine.

Hopefully, with the government backing the WHO and local health care workesr, we see a massive effort to coordinate the immunizations: with the increase in education, and with media such as radio being available in the smallest villages, the campaign is more successful.
The Measles Initiative website has “virtual journeys” that allow you to see how this is done.

And here is another way that was used to spread the word: The Measles song…

Schoolchildren learn ‘measles songs’ from their teachers; teachers tell the children to bring their younger siblings to get immunized; children march through the streets in parades, holding up signs and singing to let all households know about the importance of vaccination.During the November 2001 campaign in Pallisa District, Uganda, one schoolgirl would look sternly at the crowd as she sang the measles song, shaking her finger at them during the verse, “take your child for immunization.”
The lyrics to one of the many ‘measles songs’:

I am measles, killer disease
I am measles, killer disease
I am measles, killer disease

Take your child for immun-I-zation….

November 17
November 18
November 2001

Take the shot for immun-I-zation….

From the age of six months
To the age of five years
Our parents work hard

Take your child for immun-I-zation….

Immun-I-zation everywhere
Immun-I-zation everywhere
Immun-I-zation everywhere

Take your child for immun-I-zation


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket, and she writes medical essays at HeyDoc Xanga BLog.

Be Sociable, Share!