Saudi foundation pledges $50m to help eradicate measles

Funding from Alwaleed Philanthropies will be used by UNICEF to vaccinate more than 51 million children in 14 countries

Saudi-based Alwaleed Philanthropies on Monday pledged to give $50m to the United Nations children’s agency in a donation intended to boost the fight to eliminate measles and rubella.  

The funding will be used to vaccinate more than 51 million children in 14 countries against the diseases, at a time when recent measles outbreaks in Nigeria, Italy and Romania have fuelled concerns about its resurgence.

Anthony Lake, UNICEF’s head, said the money would “serve as a catalyst, to spur greater investment and greater practical action to immunise the children at the greatest risk.”

More than 100,000 babies are born with congenital rubella syndrome every year, a disease that can leave children blind, deaf or with other serious health defects if their mothers are infected with rubella during pregnancy.

An international effort has cut measles deaths by 79 per cent in 15 years – a fall from more than 651,000 in 2000, to 134,200 in 2015. But the contagious disease remains a leading threat to young children, killing more than 300 a day, according to World Health Organisation data.

It can be prevented with two doses of an inexpensive and effective vaccine, but a fall-off in immunisation rates has contributed to a sharp rise in infection rates.

In Nigeria, where insecurity has limited vaccination efforts, a measles outbreak in 2016 affecting some 25,000 children led to at least 100 deaths, UNICEF said.

The UN agency used a window of stability to vaccinate 4.7 million children against in northeast Nigeria in January, covering Adamawa, Borno and Yobe; the three states most affected by the Boko Haram conflict.

“The number of children around the world still suffering from measles and rubella is astonishing – but what is more astonishing is how easy it is to prevent these diseases through safe and effective vaccines,” said Princess Lamia AlSaud, secretary general of Alwaleed Philanthropies. “This is the kind of philanthropic partnership we need… to protect some of the most vulnerable children in the world.”

Alwaleed Philanthropies is the giving vehicle of Saudi royal Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. In 2015, the billionaire investor pledged to give his entire $32bn fortune to charity over the coming years.