It’s easy to forget about measles. It has an effective vaccine, and it is one of the milder childhood diseases. That doesn’t mean we can ignore it, though. Measles only stays gone as long as we keep up the fight against it. 758 people have died from measles in Southern Africa this year.
IRIN Africa quotes UNICEF’s regional vaccine advisor as saying that vaccination programs have lapsed because so few measles cases were being seen. Even more damning, he went on to say that donors had been unwilling to fund immunization programs because no cases of measles had been seen.
Government and donor commitment is not the only obstacle to immunization. There are a growing number of religious groups in Southern Africa, such as Seventh Day Adventists, that oppose vaccination. This toxic combination has now killed 758 people, mostly children.
In some ways, this is very similar to the measles outbreaks we’ve seen in the US and other wealthy countries. Once the threat grows less immediate, everyone stops worrying about it. That’s human nature, I guess. But we can do better than that. We don’t have to be slaves to our own psychology.
Real commitments to reliable, long-term funding would make a difference. We need both donors and Ministries of Health to build support to vaccine programs into their annual budgets. Not vaccination campaigns any time there is an outbreak, but writing immunization support into regular health funding and making sure that it has a home in health systems.