World Immunization Week 2013: WHO urges final push to eliminate measles in the Western Pacific

News release

In observance of the third World Immunization Week (24 to 30 April), the World Health Organization (WHO) urges its Member States in the Western Pacific Region to scale up routine immunization services to stop endemic measles transmission.

“Despite the great progress that has been made towards the elimination of measles in our Region, we must do more,” says Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. "We must intensify our efforts and increase our investments to ensure that everyone is protected against this serious and frequently fatal disease. As we did with smallpox more than a generation ago, we must consign measles to history."

The theme of World Immunization Week 2013 in the Western Pacific Region is: “Finish the job: No more measles for anyone!” Throughout the Region, events will be held to raise awareness about measles elimination and share information with the public.

Twenty-seven countries and areas in the Western Pacific Region have committed to participate in World Immunization Week 2013 by conducting launching ceremonies and other media events. In the Regional Office, an exhibit highlighting the importance of immunization, as well as the Region’s progress in eliminating measles, will be displayed.

Vaccination in general is among the most successful and cost-effective health interventions, preventing 2 to 3 million deaths each year worldwide. Besides measles, vaccination also protects against diphtheria, pertussis, pneumonia, polio, rotavirus diarrhoea, rubella and tetanus, among other life-threatening diseases. Its benefits extend from infants to adolescents, adults and the elderly, and it even covers certain influenzas, cancers (cervical and liver) and types of meningitis.

Measles incidence in the Region continued to decline to six cases per million of population in 2012 from 12 cases per million of population in 2011. More than 300 million persons were immunized against measles in the Region from 2003 to 2011.

Of the 37 countries and areas in the Region, 33 already may have interrupted endemic measles transmission, and 27 may be ready to initiate the process of verifying that they have interrupted endemic measles transmission because they have been free of endemic measles for more than three years.

Countries must now intensify their efforts to immunize all children, particularly those in hard-to-reach communities and remote areas.

Cambodia has interrupted endemic transmission for 15 months by intensifying nationwide vaccination efforts to ensure the termination of measles virus circulation and worked on improving disease surveillance systems. The country reported zero cases during 2012. This was a dramatic reduction from 2011, when there were more than 700 cases, and from 2008, when there were more than 1800.

In 2012, Cambodia’s National Immunization Programme introduced a new 18-month dose of measles vaccine to ensure the highest protection from measles. Countries providing two doses of measles vaccination have experienced dramatic declines in measles cases and even greater reductions in the number of deaths due to measles.

Measles is one of the most infectious viruses and causes illness in communities that are not protected with the safe and cost-effective measles vaccine, which is a staple of routine immunization programmes. Unimmunized young children are at highest risk of measles and its complications, including death. Two doses of vaccine protect almost all children from infection, and immunity is long lasting.

For more information, please contact:

Dr Serguei Diorditsa
Team Leader, Expanded Programme on Immunization
Tel.: +632 528 9745

Mr Timothy O’Leary
Public Information Officer
Tel.: +632 528 9992