Measles is a viral disease that can cause severe health problems such as pneumonia, swelling of the brain, blindness, and sometimes death. The good news is that according to the Pan American Health Organization, the Americas are the first region in the world to eliminate measles. The International Expert Committee for Documenting and Verifying Measles, Rubella and Congenital Rubella Syndrome Elimination in the Americas first made the declaration of the eradication of measles at the recently concluded 55th Directing Council of the PAN American Health Organization (PAHO)/World Health Organization (WHO).
Measles is a very contagious disease and it affects children primarily. It is airborne and transmitted by aerosols in contaminated air droplets, and by direct contact with infected individuals, presenting symptoms such as fever, stuffy nose, redness of the eye, rashes and other such, and can result in serious complications such as encephalitis, severe diarrhea, pneumonia, ear infections, etc, if not properly treated. These complications are more common in malnourished children and immune-compromised individuals.
Efforts to totally eradicate measles have been ongoing for many years now, with Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) mass vaccination being instrumental in the process. Measles and its eradication, have been a major public health concern and goal in recent years, and there has been ongoing awareness, sensitization and implementation of this project with the goal of ensuring all children across the globe get vaccinated.
Outstanding efforts have been recorded, and Measles is the 5th vaccine-preventable disease to be eliminated in the Americas, following the eradication of others such as small pox, polio, rubella and congenital rubella syndrome.
The historic milestone of measles eradication in the Americas comes largely as a result of the strong political commitment of member states to ensuring that all children are vaccinated and adhere to the recommended dosage regime of the vaccine. Two doses of the measles vaccine is recommended to ensure immunity and prevent disease outbreaks; it is administered to children at 13 months and at 3 years & 4 months, to 5 years of age.
Active surveillance is being strengthened in the Americas and the populations’ immunity is being maintained through vaccination to prevent resurgence. Measles still circulates in other parts of the world thus there is a need to continue to maintain high vaccination coverage rates of children and report imported cases to the appropriate authorities for rapid treatment and follow-up.
The major three (3) lines of action recommended for every country towards the global eradication of measles are:
Intensifying national campaigns to bring children ages 1-14 up to date with MMR vaccination.
Strengthening routine surveillance and vaccination to reach a minimum of 95% of the child population and,
Massive follow up campaigns every four years to reach a minimum of 95% of children ages 1-4, with a second dose of the vaccine to ensure and strengthen immunity, since 15% of vaccinated children do not develop immunity from the first dose.