Eighty-six percent decline in measles cases brings Western Pacific Region closer than ever to measles elimination

Measles & Rubella Partnership heralds steep drop in region’s measles cases resulting from rapid progress in China, Japan and other countries.

News release

Atlanta, Geneva, New York, Washington, 13 September 2012 – Measles cases are at an historic low in the Western Pacific Region and it’s making excellent progress towards eliminating the measles virus, according to the founding partners of the Measles & Rubella Partnership.

Efforts to reach more children with measles vaccine have rapidly reduced measles cases in the Region by 86 percent between 2008 and 2011. China, which accounts for 75 percent of the region’s population, has reported a 92 percent drop in cases as a result of its nationwide measles immunization effort.

These findings were confirmed at a recent meeting of the World Health Organization’s Western Pacific Region’s Technical Advisory Group (TAG) for immunization. The TAG found that 32 of the 37 countries and areas in the region might already be free of endemic measles.

“China’s national, provincial and local governments, together with communities are reaching unprecedented numbers of children with measles vaccine. In just three years, China’s immunization efforts have lowered measles cases to historic levels for the country and the Western Pacific region,” said Andrea Gay, executive director of children’s health at the UN Foundation, on behalf of the Measles & Rubella Partnership.

Other countries that have made rapid progress against measles are Cambodia, Laos, Japan, Philippines and Viet Nam. Data presented to the TAG meeting showed how Cambodia, for example, made efforts to identify communities at highest risk of measles, prioritize them during measles campaigns in 2011, and improve their access to routine immunization services. These high-risk communities include ethnic minorities and people living in remote areas with limited access to regular health services.

“This year’s regional measles trends are equally encouraging, with cases down 69 percent from January to June 2012 compared to the same period in 2011,” said Dr. Stephen Cochi, Senior Advisor at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and a member of the TAG. Regional measles surveillance data shows there were 16,431 cases from January – June of 2011 and just 5,150 in the same period of 2012.

“Countries in the Western Pacific Region are also building an impressive disease surveillance network to quickly identify measles cases and prevent outbreaks,” said Dr. Peter Strebel, Medical Officer at the World Health Organization. “This network includes laboratories that can identify different measles virus types and track spread of viruses between countries.”

The TAG, which met from 21-23 August 2012 in Manila, urged countries with sustained measles transmission to focus efforts to interrupt the transmission “as a matter of urgency”. These include China, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines and Singapore. Country measles surveillance shows that Malaysia is the only country in the region with a growing measles outbreak in 2012.

Measles is one of the most infectious viruses known to humans. It can cause serious illness and complications including pneumonia, diarrhea and blindness. Children with weak immune systems are at greater risk of death, and measles still kills 380 children each day globally, particularly in India and countries of sub-Saharan Africa.

The global community aims to eliminate measles in five of the six World Health Organization regions by 2020. The Americas eliminated endemic measles in 2002 and is in the process of verifying the elimination of rubella and congenital rubella syndrome.

“The Measles & Rubella Partnership believes that with a focus on equity, immunizing children wherever they live, being ready to respond to outbreaks and carefully tracking measles cases, all countries of the Western Pacific Region can soon be measles-free,” said Dr. Robert Kezaala, the head of measles and rubella at Unicef. “This will bring us one critical step closer to a world where no child dies of measles.”

The Measles & Rubella Partnership is a global partnership committed to ensuring no child dies from measles or is born with congenital rubella syndrome. Founded originally as the Measles Initiative in 2001, it’s led by the American Red Cross, the United Nations Foundation, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF and the World Health Organization.

Since 2001 the Partnership has supported 80 countries to deliver more than 1 billion doses of measles vaccine, helped to raise measles vaccination coverage to 85 percent globally and reduced measles deaths by 74 percent. These efforts have contributed significantly to reduction in child mortality as per Millennium Development Goal 4.

For more information, please contact:

Hayatee Hasan, WHO, Geneva, +41 79 500 6532, hasanh@who.int
Christian Moen, UNICEF, New York, +1 212 326 7516, cmoen@unicef.org
Alan Janssen, CDC, Atlanta, +1 404 639-8517, axj3@cdc.gov
Eric Porterfield, UN Foundation, Washington, DC, +1 202 352 6087, eporterfield@unfoundation.org
Niki Clark, American Red Cross, Washington, DC, +1 202 251 8638, Niki.Clark@redcross.org

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