South-East Asia Plans to Eliminate Measles by 2020

All six WHO regions now have measles elimination goals

13 SEPTEMBER 2013. GENEVA, WASHINGTON D.C.: Today the Measles & Rubella Partnership welcomes the commitment of South-East Asian countries to eliminate measles and control rubella by 2020. All six World Health Organization regions have now resolved to eliminate measles by or before 2020.

“The entire world is now working towards ending the deaths, illness and high costs associated with measles. As measles is so contagious, this is the kind of commitment and pressure we need to stop measles everywhere,” said Dr. Mickey Chopra, Chief of Health at UNICEF, a founding partner of the Measles & Rubella Partnership.

About 45% of global measles deaths, almost 71,000, occurred in South-East Asian countries in 2011, with 48,000 in India.  Of the estimated 100,000 babies affected with congenital rubella disabilities worldwide, almost half are born in the region.  Both measles and rubella can be prevented with an effective combined vaccine that costs about US1 dollar to deliver. It’s estimated that 8 million children in the region have not been vaccinated.  Each child should receive two doses of a measles-containing vaccine.

“If South-East Asian countries plan and invest strategically to reach all children with measles and rubella vaccines, these viruses can be eliminated. The Measles & Rubella Partnership pledges to advocate, help to fund and give technical support to these countries in order to achieve this public health goal,” said Dr. Stephen Cochi, Senior Adviser for Immunization at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

The 11 countries of the World Health Organization’s South East Asia Region passed the measles and rubella resolution today at the annual Regional Committee meeting in New Delhi, India.*

Measles elimination means absence of endemic transmission of the virus, or put another way, no more cases of measles caused by indigenous virus.  The few cases that may occur would be from importations.

In order to succeed, countries must plan to achieve more than 95% population immunity through high-quality delivery of vaccine, while ensuring a surveillance system that detects all cases of measles and rubella.

Global efforts against measles and rubella have resulted in a 71% drop in measles deaths since 2000, which WHO estimated at 158,000 in 2011.   Regional progress against measles has been impressive but has slowed in recent years.** Efforts to control rubella, which causes a combination of devastating congenital problems including blindness, deafness, and heart defects, are accelerating as poorer countries apply to introduce the combined measles-rubella vaccine with financial support from the GAVI Alliance.

The Measles & Rubella Partnership is a global partnership committed to ensuring no child dies from measles or is born with congenital rubella syndrome. 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.

The Initiative aims to reach the measles and rubella elimination goals of the Global Vaccine Action Plan by supporting countries to raise coverage of measles, rubella and other vaccines; fund, plan, implement and monitor quality supplementary campaigns; investigate outbreaks and provide technical and financial support for effective outbreak response; propose and participate in solutions to strengthen immunization delivery; and support a global laboratory network for measles and rubella. Since 2001, the Partnership has supported 80 countries to deliver more than 1.1 billion doses of measles vaccine, helped to raise measles vaccination coverage to 84% globally, and reduced measles deaths by 71%. These efforts have contributed significantly to reducing child mortality as per Millennium Development Goal 4.

*The 11 member states of the WHO South East Asia region are Bangladesh, Bhutan, DPR Korea, Indonesia, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste.

** The Americas have eliminated measles since 2002 and have not had an indigenous rubella case since 2009. The Western Pacific region had a record low of 12 cases per million in 2011. That year, incidence in South-East Asia was 36 cases per million people. Incidence is still highest in sub-Saharan Africa, at 227 cases per million. In Europe (43/million in 2011) and the Middle East (61/million in 2011), many countries have extremely low levels of measles, but others such as France and Pakistan have had large recent outbreaks. See the Weekly Epidemiological Record for the most recent official reporting of progress in global control and regional elimination of measles. See monthly reporting of measles globally.

For more information contact:
Hayatee Hasan, WHO, in Washington D.C. , +41 79 500 6532,
Alan Janssen, US CDC, Atlanta, +1 (404) 639 8517,
Tamara Kummer, UNICEF, New York, +1 (617) 331 4305,

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