WHO warned today that progress towards the elimination of measles has stalled. The number of deaths from measles increased from an estimated 122 000 in 2012 to 145 700 in 2013, according to new data published in the WHO Weekly Epidemiological Report and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The estimated number of measles deaths in 2013 represents a 75% decline in mortality since 2000, significantly below the target of a 95% reduction in deaths between 2000 and 2015.

World map/CIA
World map/CIA

“Poor progress in increasing measles vaccination coverage has resulted in large outbreaks of this highly contagious disease, throwing the 2015 elimination targets off-track,” said Dr Peter Strebel from the WHO Department of Immunization, Vaccines, and Biologicals.

Member States of all 6 WHO Regions have set goals for measles elimination. “Countries urgently need to prioritize maintaining and improving immunization coverage. Failure to reverse this alarming trend could jeopardize the momentum generated by a decade of achievements in reducing measles mortality,” said Dr Strebel.

While the increase in the disease in 2013 was in large part due to outbreaks in China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Nigeria, sizeable outbreaks were also reported in other parts of the world. Progress is stalled in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean region, where weak health systems and conflict and population displacement have hampered vaccination efforts. Meanwhile, the European region has seen measles re-emerge with outbreaks in a number of countries including Georgia, Turkey and Ukraine, and renewed high-level political commitment is needed to reverse this trend.

Impressive gains have been made towards measles elimination in recent years and an estimated 15.6 million deaths were prevented through vaccination during 2000-2013.

In developing countries it costs around US$ 1 to vaccinate a child against the disease, making the measles vaccine one of the best buys in public health. During 2013, 205 million children were immunized against measles through large-scale campaigns in 34 countries, including Cambodia, Cape Verde, Ghana, Jordan, Senegal, and Sudan.

However, while estimated coverage with the first dose of the measles vaccine increased globally to 83% by 2009, it has remained static since, still standing at 83–84% through 2013.

More than 60% of the estimated 21.5 million children who were not vaccinated against measles at 9 months of age last year came from 6 countries: India (6.4 million), Nigeria (2.7 million), Pakistan (1.7 million), Ethiopia (1.1 million), Indonesia (0.7 million) and Democratic Republic of Congo (0.7 million).