'Making measles history is not mission impossible,' UNICEF declares

Measles vaccinations have saved more than 20 million lives since 2000, but more than 400 children are still being killed by the disease every day, international health experts say.

Between 2000 and 2015, there was a 79 per cent decrease in estimated measles deaths. Despite this progress, global milestones of eliminating the highly infectious illness weren’t achieved, according to a report released on Thursday by UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the vaccine alliance Gavi and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Making measles history is not mission impossible,” Robin Nandy, UNICEF immunization chief, said in a statement. “We have the tools and the knowledge to do it; what we lack is the political will to reach every single child, no matter how far. Without this commitment, children will continue to die from a disease that is easy and cheap to prevent.”

In 2015, about 20 million infants missed their measles shots and an estimated 134,000 children died from the disease. Of these, more than half, 11 million, were in six countries: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Indonesia, Ethiopia and Congo.

Measles is a highly contagious virus that spreads through direct contact and through the air. It is one of the biggest killers of children worldwide. It can be prevented with two doses of a widely available and inexpensive vaccine.

Eliminating measles will take strong commitments from countries and partners to boost routine immunization coverage and to strengthen surveillance systems, the groups said. 

In 2015, large outbreaks were reported in Egypt, Ethiopia, Germany, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia. The outbreaks in Germany and Mongolia affected older persons, which the groups said highlights the need to vaccinate adolescents and young adults who have no protection against measles.

The illness also tends to flare up during conflict or humanitarian emergencies that challenge vaccination campaigns. 

Last year, outbreaks were reported in Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan.

Outbreaks in Brazil, Canada and the U.S. were stamped out, the report’s authors said. 

Publicly funded immunization programs have lower-than-recommended rates of uptake among some Canadian populations. Ontario and New Brunswick mandate children be vaccinated to attend school.

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