The World Health Organization has declared the elimination of measles in four of 37 areas it covers in the Western Pacific, a region that is home to more than 1.8 billion people and includes some of the world’s poorest countries.
Australia, Mongolia, South Korea and Macau have successfully managed to eliminate measles, a panel of experts from the WHO Western Pacific Region announced Thursday. A country can be verified as having eliminated the virus if it goes for three years without reporting any endemic or local transmission.
Measles kills roughly 330 people a day around the world, mostly children. In 2012 the incidence of the virus in the Western-Pacific was at a historic low, with around 33 of the 37 countries in the region ready for verification.
Deaths due to measles dropped from more than 12,000 in 2000 to just 2,000 in 2012.
WHO attributed the drop in fatalities largely to an increase in vaccination that protects against the virus.
Since 2009, more 230 million children have been administered the measles vaccine in the Western Pacific, a region that includes Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, Southeast Asian nations, and the Pacific islands. That figure is nearly a quarter of the more than one billion people who have been immunized in the six regions covered by the WHO. The Americas region, which includes North and South America has recorded no cases of measles since 2002 and the WHO says it aims to eliminate the virus in at least five of its six regions by 2020.
Achieving that goal will be more of a challenge in countries where immunization remains spotty. Late last year and early in 2014, outbreaks were recorded in China, the Philippines and Vietnam, due in large part to inconsistent immunization programs.
“The elimination of measles must remain a priority in order to promote equity and to reduce the high burden of mortality and morbidity caused by the disease on the world’s most vulnerable, not only in this region but around the world,” Dr. Shin Young-soo, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, said in an address to the regional verification commission meeting this week in Seoul.