WHO calls out South-East Asian countries to eliminate measles


On 12th anniversary of the last case of wild poliovirus in the South-East Asia region, the World Health Organisation has called on countries to accelerate measures against measles – with nearly nine million children having missed vaccination against the disease in the last two years.

According to the World Health Organisation, the South-East Asia region recorded 73 per cent reduction in measles deaths and 64 per cent reduction in measles cases.

“Five of the 11 countries in the South-East Asia Region – Bhutan, DPR Korea, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Timor-Leste – have eliminated measles, and two countries – Maldives and Sri Lanka – have eliminated rubella as well. Countries have been administering two doses of measles vaccines as part of their childhood immunization programme and some rolling out mass vaccination campaigns,” WHO said.

The governing body further informed that COVID pandemic hit, measles vaccination coverage, which had reached an all-time high of 94% coverage for first dose and 83% coverage for second dose by 2019, declined to 86% and 78% respectively in 2021, leaving nine million children unvaccinated for measles and around 5.3 million children partially vaccinated against this highly infectious and killer disease.

 “The decline in vaccine coverage, and interruptions and delays in immunization and surveillance activities due to COVID-19, leaves the Region susceptible to large outbreaks, and off track for the 2023 target of measles and rubella elimination,” Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia said.

“We need to urgently close immunity gaps with tailored approaches for highest impact, such as through catch-up campaigns, and strengthening routine immunization with better microplanning,” the Regional Director added.

The World Health Organisation has further suggested that the countries must ensure adequate investment in laboratory supported case-based surveillance for timely detection of measles cases and outbreaks, to facilitate an appropriate response.

“All countries have been taking several initiatives to revive and resume childhood immunization coverage and surveillance activities that were affected by COVID-19 pandemic. These efforts need to be sustained and further strengthened to maintain polio-free status of the Region and protect children against deadly and debilitating vaccine preventable diseases,” Dr Khetrapal Singh said.

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