Measles kills a child every three minutes, despite the fact that we’ve had an effective vaccine since 1963 — a vaccine that costs $.26 to produce. Unfortunately only rich and middle income countries have the infrastructure that allows ubiquitous coverage, leading to these many daily deaths. Every single one of those kids, plus the sixty or so thousand every year who don’t die but are permanently blinded, is a victim of the worst kind of structural violence; dying because parents couldn’t afford to or didn’t know to provide them a vaccine, and because the rest of the world stood idly by. The WHO / Unicef / CDC / Red Cross and a few other NGOs got together in 2001 and formed the Global Measles Initiative. So far they’ve achieved a 93% reduction in fatalities in Africa, and we stand to see measles eradicated with continued efforts.
Unfortunately here’s a major funding shortfall for measles vaccine funding worldwide. The Measles Initiative is potentially $59 million short this year, and West + Central Africa are $16 million short just by themselves according to WHO and Unicef (source: IRIN). Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ghana, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Central African Republic, Senegal, and Togo will all be inoculating late this summer (or early fall), and Nigeria will join suit in January of 2011. Ninety-plus-percent coverage will be required to eradicate measles, but it’s entirely possible that with continued and earnest efforts measles will be gone within the next decade.
Eradicating polio is really important, but so can the same be said of measles. While I am happy polio gets so much media coverage, many people don’t realize measles is still with us, and is killing far, far more children than polio. Polio, however, leaves children crippled, often condemned to living as beggars, and almost inevitably as visible reminders of the disease. Measles simply kills children, quietly, effectively, and without the lasting reminder to society. We must make eradication of both diseases a global health priority.