“This achievement culminates a 22-year effort involving mass vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella throughout the Americas,” said PAHO, adding that the declaration of measles ’elimination was made by the International Expert Committee for Documenting and Verifying Measles, Rubella, and Congenital Rubella Syndrome Elimination in the Americas.
PAHO said the announcement came during its 55th Directing Council, which is currently underway and is being attended by ministers of health from throughout the Americas.
Measles is the fifth vaccine-preventable disease to be eliminated from the Americas, after the regional eradication of smallpox in 1971, poliomyelitis in 1994, and rubella and congenital rubella syndrome in 2015.
“This is a historic day for our region and indeed the world,” said PAHO Director Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, adding “it is proof of the remarkable success that can be achieved when countries work together in solidarity towards a common goal.
“It is the result of a commitment made more than two decades ago, in 1994, when the countries of the Americas pledged to end measles circulation by the turn of the 21st century,” she added.
Before mass vaccination was initiated in1980, PAHO said measles caused nearly 2.6 million annual deaths worldwide.
In the Americas, PAHO said 101,800 deaths were attributable to measles between 1971 and 1979.
A cost-effectiveness study on measles elimination in Latin America and the Caribbean has estimated that with vaccination, 3.2 million measles cases will have been prevented in the region and 16,000 deaths between 2000 and 2020, PAHO said.
“This historic milestone would never have been possible without the strong political commitment of our Member States in ensuring that all children have access to life-saving vaccines,” Etienne said.
“It would not have been possible without the generosity and commitment of health workers and volunteers who have worked so hard to take the benefits of vaccines to all people, including those invulnerable and hard-to-reach communities,” she added.
“Indeed, it would not have been possible without the strong leadership and coordination provided by PAHO, Regional Office for the Americas of WHO (World Health Organization),” she added.
PAHO said measles transmission had been considered interrupted in the region since 2002, when the last endemic case was reported in the Americas.
However, as the disease had continued to circulate in other parts the world, some countries in the Americas experienced imported cases, PAHO said.
It said the International Expert Committee reviewed evidence on measles elimination presented by all the countries of the region between 2015 and August 2016 and decided that it met the established criteria for elimination.
PAHO said the process included six years of work with countries to document evidence of the elimination.
Measles is one of the most contagious diseases and affects primarily children, PAHO said.
It is transmitted by airborne droplets or via direct contact with secretions from the nose, mouth, and throat of infected individuals.
PAHO said symptoms include high fever, generalized rash all over the body, stuffy nose, and reddened eyes.
It can cause serious complications including blindness, encephalitis, severe diarrhoea, ear infections and pneumonia, particularly in children with nutritional problems and in immune compromised patients, PAHO said.
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