The Americas have taken the accolade of being the first area in the world to eliminate the measles from its land, just like it did with smallpox, polio, rubella and congenital rubella syndrome. The 55th Directing Council of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) held this week announced the achievement, while praising the commitment towards mass vaccination over the last few decades.
Measles is usually considered to be not life-threatening, with an itchy red rash appearing, along with fever and cold-like symptoms which come and go in a week or two. But it is known to create severe complications like blindness, swelling of the brain, and fatality in some cases, making this feat all the more important and impressive. People with the highest risk of contracting the disease include people in the developing countries suffering from malnutrition and inadequate healthcare, infants, pregnant women, or people with weakened immune systems from diseases like HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, etc.
The disease was a serious cause for concern, as according to PAHO reports, up until 1980 around 2.6 million deaths per year resulted due to measles, with 12,000 of the cases originating from the region of the Americas. The advent of a low-cost, readily available triple viral vaccine, which combats measles, mumps and rubella, helped in lowering this number by 95 percent in 35 years. And by WHO estimates, around 17.1 million people’s lives have been saved courtesy the vaccines between 2000 and 2014.
PAHO/WHO Director Carissa F. Etienne said in a statement,
“This is a historic day for our region and indeed the world. 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.”
The last endemic case reported in Brazil in July 2015, triggered the International Expert Committee for Measles and Rubella Elimination towards reviewing the outbreak evidence and comparing them with the “elimination status” criterion. And after a thorough checking, both the organisations determined that the elimination criteria had been satisfied.
But they were quick to point out that elimination does not mean complete immunity and eradication. And the disease can still be contracted if it is brought into the Americas by foreign travellers. Thus, a sustained vaccination drive is the only way to keep the Americas safe from any future outbreaks.
“I would like to emphasize that our work on this front is not yet done. We can not become complacent with this achievement but must rather protect it carefully. Measles still circulates widely in other parts of the world, and so we must be prepared to respond to imported cases. It is critical that we continue to maintain high vaccination coverage rates, and it is crucial that any suspected measles cases be immediately reported to the authorities for rapid follow-up.”