Four Western Pacific countries and areas are the first in their Region to be measles-free
Steady progress on several fronts as the Region moves closer towards elimination of the disease, although significant challenges remain
SEOUL, 20 March 2014 - The World Health Organization Western Pacific Region celebrates a milestone today with the announcement of measles elimination by Australia, Macao (China), Mongolia and the Republic of Korea. They are the first countries or areas in the Region to receive this distinction. Measles kills approximately 330 people worldwide every day, mostly children under the age of five, making this a truly significant achievement as WHO Member States in the Western Pacific Region work towards the elimination of measles.
"The elimination of measles must remain a priority in order to promote equity and to reduce the high burden of mortality and morbidity caused by this disease on the world’s most vulnerable, not only in our Region but also around the world," said Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific in his comments to the Regional Verification Commission meeting in Seoul. “Far too many children succumb to a virus infection that can be prevented so easily by a vaccine that should be part of any standard immunization programme”.
This welcome news occurs against a backdrop of measles outbreaks during 2013 and early 2014 in China, the Philippines and Viet Nam, highlighting the challenge in ensuring high and consistent coverage of immunization programmes across a diverse range of countries.
Despite these outbreaks, steady progress has been apparent with measles incidence at historically low levels by the end of 2012. Measles deaths in the Region have dropped by an estimated 84%, from 12 100 in 2000 to just 2000 in 2012 . This drop is largely attributable to an increase in high coverage with two doses of measles vaccine provided either during routine immunization services or mass vaccination campaigns.
Fourteen countries and areas submitted reports to the Measles Regional Verification Commission appointed by WHO and made up of 14 international experts to determine if all verification criteria were met by each country and area . WHO defines that measles elimination can be verified when there is “documentation that shows interruption of endemic measles virus transmission for a period of at least 36 months” in the presence of a well-performing surveillance system and supportive genotyping evidence.
Achieving this ambitious but realistic goal requires additional funding and human resources, underpinned by firm political commitment and advocacy, to implement immunization programmes that reach all populations and to ensure that measles elimination is enshrined as a public health priority in the Western Pacific. The Region is home to more than 1.8 billion people, more than a quarter of the world’s population. One of the most diverse of WHO’s six regions, the Western Pacific includes a wide-ranging mix of low-, middle- and high-income countries.
“All countries must now intensify their efforts to immunize all children against measles and indeed other vaccine-preventable diseases, particularly those in harder-to-reach communities and remote areas”, urged Dr Shin. “We must reach every community, no matter where they are. This is the heart of equity. We have made significant progress in recent years. Let us not be complacent but strive even harder to help ensure the well-being of generations to come.”
Note to Editors Since 2009, more than 230 million children have been immunized against measles through mass vaccination campaigns in the Western Pacific Region. Globally, more than 1 billion people have been reached since 2000 with the support of the Measles & Rubella Initiative through routine immunization and mass campaigns.
The Measles & Rubella Initiative Launched in 2001, the Measles & Rubella Initiative is a global partnership led by the American Red Cross, United Nations Foundation, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UNICEF and WHO.
The Measles & Rubella Initiative is committed to ensuring that no child dies from measles or is born with congenital rubella syndrome; reducing measles deaths by 95% by 2015; and achieving measles and rubella elimination in at least five WHO regions by 2020. The Region of the Americas has sustained measles elimination since 2002 and the Western Pacific Region is on track to reach its goal. All six regions have established measles elimination goals.
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1 The latest data is published in the 7 February 2014 edition of the CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6305a5.htm?s_cid=mm6305a5_w and WHO Weekly Epidemiological Report http://www.who.int/wer/2014/wer8906/en/
2 There are 37 countries and areas in the WHO Western Pacific Region. The 21 Pacific Islands will be verified as a single epidemiological block.