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BEIJING and MANILA, Philippines -- Measles: normal childhood illness or killer disease? Actually, it is both but it could soon be neither. Measles has already been eliminated in the WHO Region of the Americas. The challenge is for the rest of the world to catch up. Can the Western Pacific Region* eliminate measles within the next seven years?
That is the key question to be debated by immunization experts at a WHO
meeting in Beijing June 8-10. The Technical Advisory Group will
consider whether 2012 is a feasible date for the Region to achieve measles
elimination. Mobilizing sufficient political and financial support to achieve
the elimination goal will be a key consideration.
''We want to eliminate measles as soon as possible,'' says Dr. Shigeru Omi,
WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, ''but we have to realize that
progress across the Region varies and some countries are further advanced than
others. A group of experts forming the task force on measles elimination
identified 2012 as a realistic target date for the Region to achieve
Despite a 95 percent reduction in measles deaths in the region since the pre-
vaccine era, measles remains a leading cause of death among young children.
It also leaves at least as many with life-long disabilities like blindness,
deafness and brain damage. About 30,000 children die each year from measles
in the Region, nearly all of them in five countries: Cambodia, China, the Lao
People's Democratic Republic, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines.
"It is unacceptable that children are dying from measles, a disease that
can be easily prevented by an effective, safe and inexpensive vaccine," says
Omi. "The children who die from measles are generally the most
disadvantaged children in the region. Reaching and protecting these children
is not just a disease control issue; it is also about fairness and justice."
Because measles is one of the most infectious viruses, practically every
child needs to be immunized with two doses of measles vaccine to stop its
spread. This means that health services need to reach every community,
especially the most disadvantaged that are at highest risk of disease and its
Routine immunization services are a fundamental public health requirement.
But geographical, cultural, and other barriers leave many communities
underserved. Measles elimination makes it essential for health services to
reach, and keep reaching, every community. In so doing, other health
interventions can also be delivered to the community, including other life-
But measles elimination has to compete for attention and funding with many
other development issues in the region. "Sustained political commitment and
sufficient funding are crucial to achieve measles elimination," says Omi.
"We think that a target date of 2012 will help to mobilize these."
* The 37 countries and areas comprising the WHO Western Pacific Region
are: American Samoa, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Cook
Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Hong Kong (China), Japan,
Kiribati, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Macao (China), Malaysia,
the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Mongolia,
Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, the Commonwealth of the
Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the
Pitcairn Islands, the Republic of Korea, Samoa, Singapore, Solomon
Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Viet Nam, and Wallis and
Source: World Health Organization