The World Health Organization (WHO) announced last week that, “The region of the Americas is the first in the world to have eliminated measles, a viral disease that can cause severe health problems.”
“This is an historic day for our region and indeed the world,” said Carissa F. Etienne, Director of the Pan American Health Organization of the UN World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO).
The highly contagious virus was wiped out in the Americas after a mass vaccination campaign against measles, mumps and rubella that has lasted for 22 years. According to Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) the last case of measles in the Americas was registered in Brazil in 2015.
This is the first time that a region of this size has been declared measles-free. Measles is one of the most contagious diseases on the planet, and thanks to the vaccinations it is the fifth disease to be eliminated in the Americas after smallpox was eradicated in 1971, while poliomyelitis was eliminated in 1994, along with rubella and congenital rubella syndrome in 2015.
“It is proof of the remarkable success that can be achieved when countries work together in solidarity towards a common goal,” said Etienne in a statement. “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.”
Last year, just under a quarter million cases of measles were reported worldwide, according to WHO. Before mass vaccinations started happening, measles would kill up to 2.6 million people a year, and most of the victims were children. Symptoms include a rash, high fever, and irritated eyes. It can also cause blindness, encephalitis, severe diarrhea and pneumonia.
Vaccination efforts continue around the world. Two years ago, Nigeria was declared polio-free, and continues to maintain their successful vaccination campaign.
“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 in vulnerable and hard-to-reach communities. Indeed it would not have been possible without the strong leadership and coordination provided by PAHO, Regional Office for the Americas of WHO,” Etienne concluded about the elimination of measles in the Americas.
Etienne, however, did point out that, “our work on this front is not yet done. 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.”
PAHO, founded in 1902, works with its member countries to improve the health and the quality of life of the people of the Americas. It serves as the regional office for the Americas of WHO and is the specialized health agency of the inter-American system.