The World Health Organization is stepping up efforts to drastically reduce the spread of measles, a leading killer of children despite the availability of a cheap and effective vaccine.

Roughly 750,000 children die from measles each year, with more than half the deaths in Africa.

The WHO's three-year-old Measles Initiative Partnership has cut the number of deaths from the disease in those countries by 25 per cent.

At a conference in Cape Town, health officials called on countries around the world to help them target the 45 countries that account for 95 per cent of global deaths from measles. Thirty-one of the 45 countries are in Africa.

The "Cape Town Measles Declaration" aims to reduce measles deaths by 50 per cent by 2005.

"The strategy will provide every child with two opportunities for measles immunization, whether through routine immunization or support by supplementary immunization campaign," said WHO spokesperson Melissa Corkum.

An inexpensive and effective vaccine has been available for more than 40 years. Officials at WHO say it would cost $1 to save one child from dying from measles.