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Measles & Rubella Initiative steep drop in measles cases resulting from rapid progress in China, Japan and other countries

The purpose of this post is to urge actions in India to achieve the type of progress that China has achieved over the last 3 years to bring an end to deaths by measles. Why India? Not only because it is the world's most populated country, but also because it now is the country most in need of partnerships to address this deadly disease.

The following press Measles and Rubella Initiative press release highlights how much positive has been achieved in the last 11 years:

September 12, 2012 - Atlanta, Geneva, New York, Washington: 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 Initiative.

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 Initiative.

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 Initiative 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.”

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