Washington, D.C. July 28, 2010 (PAHO) — Experts from around the globe are meeting this week to decide on a crucial question: Is the global eradication of measles feasible?
Measles, one of the most contagious diseases in the world, is one of the leading causes of death among young children, despite the fact that a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available. Each year, there are about 160,000 measles deaths globally, almost all in low-income countries with weak health infrastructures. However, targeted vaccination campaigns have had a major impact on reducing measles deaths. The Region of the Americas reported its last endemic case of measles in November 2002, eight years after calling for measles elimination. All subsequent cases have been imported or import-related measles.
Experts from around the globe gathered at the Pan American Health Organization
The experts at the Global Technical Consultation to Assess the Feasibility of Measles Eradication, being held at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) through Friday, are reviewing biological, logistics, economic and other factors in measles eradication.
PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses said, "One of my achievable dreams is to eliminate those health conditions or diseases that still afflict our peoples despite the fact that we possess the knowledge and the tools with which to make them virtually disappear. We are therefore ethically bound to make a determined effort to implement them without further delay."
In welcoming remarks to the participants today, PAHO Deputy Director Dr. Jon K. Andrus noted, "We know that measles eradication is achievable. The Region of the Americas has sustained measles elimination for almost eight years now, and four of the five remaining WHO regions have set an elimination goal by 2020 or earlier. Many challenges remain to achieve eradication. Despite the challenges you are going to hear about in this meeting, none of them are insurmountable. In our view, measles elimination is one of the best investments in public health. By adding rubella, this 'best buy' gets even better, because by so doing we eliminate the scourge of congenital rubella syndrome. We have learned in the Americas that combining measles and rubella elimination is feasible and practical, and provides what we call mutual sustainability."
Dr. Andrus said that the Americas have led in the fight against vaccine-preventable diseases. "This pledge began with the eradication of smallpox and polio, and more recently countries targeted the elimination of measles by 2000, rubella, and congenital rubella syndrome by 2010."
"We have a unique opportunity," he added. "Sustaining the achievements of each region will require global vision and leadership. We also require intensified communications support, since publicity, social mobilization, and messaging are crucial to attaining high participation and good coverage rates in our elimination effort. This was crucial for smallpox, for polio, and in today's more inter-connected world, it is even more important."
In addition to routine vaccination activities, the immunization outlook in the Americas has improved since Vaccination Week began in 2002 as a joint campaign initiated by Andean countries. Each country has set its own targets and goals, ranging from initiatives to target high-risk populations, implement rubella elimination campaigns and follow-up measles vaccination, to the introduction of new vaccines, such as seasonal influenza, pentavalent, and rotavirus. Inequities remain a barrier to reaching those left behind in the Region, and this is a challenge Vaccination Week addresses by focusing on principles of equity, access, and Pan Americanism to increase and strengthen routine immunization coverage, improve coverage in isolated and vulnerable populations, and promote basic health care through integrated activities.
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) was established in 1902 and is the world's oldest public health organization. It serves as the regional office of the World Health Organization, and works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of their peoples.