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Wednesday 26th June 2019

Measles deaths fall short of target

24th April 2012

The Geneva-based World Health Organisation (WHO) says that global deaths from measles have fallen by nearly 75% in the last 10 years.


However, the figures are partly based on computer models, and fall far short of an international target which aimed to slash the number of measles deaths by 90% by 2010.

According to statistics released by the WHO and other bodies, most of the measles deaths occurred as a result of insufficient immunisation coverage in India and Africa.

In the first decade of the century, around 9.6 million child deaths were prevented, however, by the rollout of major vaccination programmes around the world.

In a study funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published in The Lancet, researchers said the number of global deaths from measles in 2010 was estimated at 139,300, a fall of around 74% compared with 535,300 deaths in 2000.

The estimates are based on data from just 65 countries, however. The research team used computer modelling to extrapolate figures from the other 128 countries.

WHO measles expert Peter Strebel said the results were still very positive, and the fall in measles deaths that had been achieved had come with significantly accelerated effort.

Current worldwide vaccination rates for measles stand at 85%, the highest ever recorded, he said.

Medecins Sans Frontieres immunisation expert Daniel Berman said that African countries had seen a massive increase in measles in the past two years, as governments failed to implement vaccination programmes, or simply ran out of money.

Berman said one key challenge of healthcare policy-makers in countries with weak healthcare and political systems was to find ways to make measles campaigns happen at all.

He was sceptical that there would much more of an improvement in measles mortality rates from now on.

Columbia University professor Nancy Leys Stepan said eradication campaigns were fraught with difficulty, and health bodies should not try to adopt too many at the same time.

Such programmes were plagued by a lack of good data, she said, making it more reasonable to stick to deadlines for reducing measles rather than trying to eliminate it.

Measles has staged a comeback in Europe in recent years, with the number of cases seen by doctors tripling since 2007 on the back of concerns over the vaccine and a failure to take the disease seriously.

In the United States, where routine immunisation programmes have been in place since 1963, cases have also risen, with 222 cases reported nationwide in 2011, mostly via overseas sources.

Further efforts are still needed to maintain the decline in measles deaths, Strebel said, adding that experts were wary of setting deadlines for eradication.

Smallpox is, to date, the only human disease to have been completely eradicated.

Major global initiatives aimed at eradicating polio and guinea worm have reached a stalemate.

Measles is one of the most infectious diseases on the planet, and mostly affects children, who develop a rash, cough and fever.

For every 1,000 children that get it, one or two will die. The disease can also trigger miscarriage or premature birth.

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