Though we tend to think of measles as a mere childhood disease here in the U.S.–a nuisance more than anything–this is a reminder that worldwide, it’s still a significant cause of morbidity and mortality. To counter this, a mass vaccine campaign was begun in 2001, and has served to drastically reduce the burden due to the disease:
Deaths from measles have fallen by 60 percent worldwide since 1999 in what experts described on Friday as an historic victory for global health.
Accelerated control measures including an increase in routine measles immunizations and a campaign to reach marginalized children in the 45 worst hit countries has pushed deaths down from an estimated 873,000 in 1999 to around 345,000 in 2005.
More after the jump…
The biggest fall has been in Africa where the number of children dying from the illness fell 75 percent to 126,000.
The initial goal was to reduce measles mortality by half by this time, and that’s been exceeded. The next benchmark is to reduce it by 90% by 2010, and there’s talk of eradication as well:
“Measles eradication is theoretically possible because the only reservoir for the measles virus is humans and we have a safe and effective vaccine,” said Dr Peter Strebel, of the WHO and a co-author of the study, in an interview.
In the western hemisphere there has been no local spread of the measles virus since 2002 because of very aggressive vaccination efforts.
“It is technically possible, theoretically possible and in certain areas practically possible to stop transmission,” said Strebel. “However, global eradication will require all countries at the same time to achieve very high vaccination coverage — 95 percent plus.”
Obviously, this is a lofty goal, and one that certainly will be difficult to reach. Even in developed countries, vaccination rates aren’t universally that high–for example, London’s was reported at 75%, likely due to the (unsupported) idea that the MMR was associated with subsequent development of autism. Nevertheless, whether eradication is possible or not, the last several years represent a huge achievement in public health, and show again the incredible power of vaccination.