Monday, March 13, 2006

The prevention of measles: a victory for Africa

Corrupt governments, deadly locust plagues, armed ethnic conflicts, famines: that is generally the kind of lurid stuff that one expects to slink off the African news desk. So it is at refreshing, at least for a change, to hear some good news concerning health coming out of Africa last week. Cases and deaths of measles dropped 60% in sub-Saharan Africa last year, largely due to a massive vaccination campaign spearheaded by the WHO and UNICEF between 1999-2005. This is a tremendous public health victory.

Of course, if one still insists on harping on about Africa's privations, there is ample opportunity. There is no good reason why 440,000 children should die from measle-related illness in 2005, when there has been a cheap and simple vaccination has been around (at least in the countries of the North) for more than 40 years. And measles is only one of the smaller of the killer diseases roaming the continent. And so on. But this sort of fixation with 'Africa-the-disaster' is unhealthy. The small successes should be honored and emulated, not relativized and minimalized in favor of the next horror story.