Statement |

MSF Measles Intervention at 63rd World Health Assembly

This intervention on measles was given by Dr Tido von Schoen-Angerer, Executive Director of the MSF Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines on Thursday, 20 May, 2010 at the 63rd World Health Assembly.

Thank you Chair,

Despite extraordinary global progress in measles control since 2000, measles remains endemic in many countries. Successful measles control measles through EPI and supplementary immunisation activities at large scale is real. This has perhaps made some complacent and this complacency is dangerous.

We welcome the call of the WHO secretariat for new, ambitious measles targets for 2015 but we are gravely concerned about the lacklustre response to current outbreaks, and an acute measles funding crisis.

This year, there has been a resurgence of measles outbreaks throughout Southern Africa, where cases continue to be reported even several months after the beginning of the epidemic. If responded to appropriately, these epidemics could have been contained and entirely preventable deaths avoided.

We need to reinforce outbreak response immunization which is now recognized as effective by WHO. Outbreak response immunisation is not yet widely implemented as it is challenging to implement and sometimes not authorized by authorities.

Responding to measles outbreaks with vaccination and concurrently providing treatment free of charge also provides the opportunity for children not reached by the routine system to receive their first dose, and others with the second dose. 

Prevention and treatment of measles are core activities of Médecins Sans Frontières. In 2009 MSF vaccinated more than 1.5 million children in response to outbreaks in more than 10 countries in collaboration with Ministries of Health and other international actors. In order to sustain progress in measles control and to progress even further, we need to put this issue back in the spotlight.

Controlling measles epidemics necessitates political and financial support. Funding and support for both routine services and outbreak response have been declining, in favour of placing investments in new vaccines and newer technologies. We are strong supporters of strengthening childhood immunisation by delivering new vaccines that hold great promise to reduce child mortality and achieve MDG4, but these new investments should not come at the expense of proven, cheap and essential vaccines.

As long as measles is resurging, achieving MDG4 will be unlikely. The Measles Initiative estimates that an estimated 164,000 people – 450 a day – died from this easily preventable disease in 2008. Costing less than US $1 to vaccinate a child, the measles control strategy, with high coverage routine immunisation, supplementary activities where coverage is below 90% for the first dose, vigilant surveillance, timely and comprehensive outbreak response and free treatment, represents one of the most cost-effective health interventions available.

We urge member states to give WHO the additional resources necessary to assist countries in outbreak response and to ensure continuous support to measles control programmes.

Thank you Chair.