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Measles deaths fell by more than 90% worldwide from 2000 to 2008, except in southern Asia

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 08 December 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b5362
  1. John Zarocostas
  1. 1Geneva

    The United Nations’ goal to achieve a 90% fall in measles mortality between 2000 and 2010 has been achieved in all World Health Organization regions except its South-East Asia region, experts from the international partnership the Measles Initiative said last week.

    The fall in the number of deaths in Africa reached 92% from 2000 to 2008, but in the WHO South-East Asia region, which includes heavily populated nations such as India, Indonesia, and Bangladesh, the decline was only 46%. Consequently the total decline worldwide was 78%.

    “Delayed implementation of large scale vaccination campaigns in India, the country with the majority of measles deaths, is largely accountable for this lack of progress,” a spokesperson for the Measles Initiative said.

    The initiative includes representatives from WHO, Unicef, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the American Red Cross.

    But members warned of a resurgence in mortality if vaccination efforts were not sustained.

    “This is a highly contagious disease that can quickly take advantage of any lapse in effort,” said Margaret Chan, director general of WHO, in a statement accompanying the new estimates.

    “Measles can make a rapid comeback if we don’t continue to make progress,” said Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC.

    In 2008 an estimated 164 000 children died from measles, down from 733 000 in 2000, indicate new data from the initiative.

    Experts at WHO and Unicef fear a resurgence in measles mortality if the 47 priority countries are unable to maintain current recommended strategies. If political and financial commitment lessens, the number of measles related deaths may rise to 1.7 million between 2010 and 2013, a spokesman for the initiative said. There was a funding gap of $59m (£36m; €40m) for 2010.

    Since 2001, vaccinating nearly 700 million children against measles in more than 60 countries had prevented about 4.3 million deaths from measles, the initiative’s figures show.

    The estimated number of deaths in 2008 was 126 000 in South-East Asia, 28 000 in Africa, and 2000 in the Western Pacific region.

    “Three out of four children who died from measles in 2008 were in India,” said Ann Veneman, Unicef’s executive director.

    The Measles Initiative says that large scale vaccination campaigns need to be implemented in India, and Ms Veneman said that plans by India to scale up such campaigns in parts of the country “is very encouraging.”

    WHO and Unicef estimate that around the world routine measles vaccination coverage rose to 83% in 2008, up 1% from the year earlier, but they add that coverage varied substantially by region.


    Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b5362


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