Step up efforts to eliminate measles: WHO

SEAR/PR/1711

New Delhi, 25 April 2019: Amidst increasing cases and outbreaks of measles globally, WHO today called upon countries in its South-East Asia Region to further accelerate efforts to ensure that everyone, everywhere receives the lifesaving benefits of immunization.

“Governments, communities and health workers must focus on optimizing the benefits of immunization at all ages to prevent life threatening and debilitating diseases. Vaccines work and save lives, we must ensure that everyone, everywhere is benefitted,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director WHO South-East Asia, during the ongoing World Immunization Week.

Preliminary measles surveillance data released recently indicates almost 300 per cent increase in measles cases globally in the first three months of this year as compared to the same period in 2018. In WHO South-East Asia Region, the increase in measles cases in the same period is estimated to be around 40 per cent.

“These are fresh challenges for countries and communities. We must learn from our successes in polio eradication and maternal & neonatal tetanus elimination from the Region. We need to combat these diseases on a war footing to prevent illness and save precious lives,” Dr Khetrapal Singh said.

Measles elimination and rubella control has been a flagship priority programme in the WHO South-East Asia Region since 2014. While rubella causes irreversible birth defects, measles is a killer disease. It is one of the most infectious virus known to mankind and can lead to diarrhoea, pneumonia, malnutrition in children and young adults and can even lead to deaths in all age groups.

Since 2014, of the 11 Member countries, four - Bhutan, Maldives, DPR Korea and Timor-Leste - have eliminated measles and six - Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Timor-Leste - have controlled rubella. Measles-related deaths have decreased by 23 per cent in the Region in the last five years.

All Member countries have introduced two doses of measles-containing vaccine while ten countries have also introduced vaccines against rubella in their routine immunization programmes.

More than 86 per cent children in the Region under one year of age have been vaccinated with first dose of measles containing vaccine and 76 per cent with second dose of measles containing vaccine in routine immunization. To bridge the immunity gap, mass vaccination campaigns with measles and rubella vaccine are being conducted in countries. Nearly half a billion children have been vaccinated with measles containing vaccine in the Region in the last five years. These efforts have helped avert approximately 500,000 deaths due to measles annually.

“Though dramatic gains have been made against both diseases, accelerated progress is needed to achieve the Region’s flagship priority to eliminate measles and control rubella, to contribute to WHO’s ‘triple billion’ global goals and to fully implement the UN Secretary General’s Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health.”

Robust immunization systems are needed to harness vaccination’s full potential so that every child in the Region is healthy, happy and has full protection against all vaccine-preventable diseases, the Regional Director said.

World Immunization Week – celebrated in the last week of April every year – aims to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against disease. Immunization saves millions of lives every year and is widely recognized as one of the world’s most successful and cost-effective health interventions. This year’s theme is “Protected Together – Vaccines Work”.

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Media contact:

Shamila Sharma
WHO South-East Asia Regional Office
Public Information and Advocacy Officer
Phone: +91 9818287256
Email: sharmasha@who.int