|The measles virus|
Measles is an infection of the breathing system. The cause is a virus. It spreads through the air when infected people cough or sneeze. Measles spreads very easily.
Deaths from measles are often the result of related infections like pneumonia or severe diarrhea. Those who survive can suffer brain damage, blindness or other disabilities.
The most recent estimate is that measles led to more than four hundred fifty thousand deaths in two thousand four. Most who die are children under the age of five. And the highest numbers are in southern Africa.
Measles is now rare in wealthier countries where parents usually have their children vaccinated against the disease. But it is still common in many developing countries. The World Health Organization says more than thirty million people are affected each year.
Experts say weak vaccination programs are the main reason. They say almost all children who have not been vaccinated will get measles if they come in contact with the virus. This is especially true if a person has not had enough vitamin A or has a weakened defense system.
There has been a vaccine against measles for the past forty years. Still, measles remains the leading cause of vaccine-preventable deaths around the world. But there is good news. A new report says an international campaign reduced measles deaths by almost half between nineteen ninety-nine and two thousand four.
During that time, it says, almost five hundred million children in forty-seven countries were vaccinated.
The report is from the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF. It says countries in southern Africa had the largest reduction: cases and deaths fell an estimated sixty percent.
The Measles Initiative was launched in February of two thousand one. The international program is expanding technical and financial support to countries in South Asia. They have the highest numbers of measles deaths outside of southern Africa.
The W.H.O. says children in developing countries who get measles should receive two doses of vitamin A. These are given twenty-four hours apart. They can help prevent eye damage and improve chances of survival.
This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Cynthia Kirk. Read and listen to our reports at voaspecialenglish.com. I’m Steve Ember.