According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the death rate from measles has fallen off a cliff. 75% fewer measles deaths in the last 10 years have been reported in a new study. Measles is prevalent in India and Africa, and immunization is still not universal. In terms of numbers, that 75% means an estimated 9,600,000 children were kept alive and safe from measles in the first decade of this millennium. The decline in mortality rates was from around 536,000 to 139,000. But this is still 139,000 too many preventable fatalities.
The WHO estimate the mortality rate figures for some 128 nations because they only have proper data for 65 countries. The improvement in mortality rates is a laudable achievement but still some way short of the WHO target figure of a 90% cliff drop by 2010. It is the result of a huge impetus behind immunization programs everywhere. Lots of hard detailed work on the ground in remote areas and must be seen as a tremendous success.
[box type="important"]The worldwide 85% vaccination coverage figure is a peak achievement for the WHO. It was recognized in a report funded by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in America and published in the medical journal, ‘The Lancet’.[/box]
Measles is of course a highly contagious disease that mainly affects children. The symptoms are a fever, coughing and a spotty rash all over the sufferer’s body. It is fatal for 1 or two children in every 1000 infected. Pregnant women can also be adversely affected by this disease, with miscarriages and premature births being the worst results.
The success of vaccination programs in advanced areas of the World has brought many health officials to the optimistic belief that measles could be the next smallpox. This is in the sense that smallpox is the only disease to have been successfully overcome as a health threat. Progress against other diseases such as polio and guinea worm seems to have halted.
There are alternative opinions within the disease control community of experts. Some feel that eradication programs are the ways forward for all major diseases. While others feel that the barriers to genuinely accurate data is too great an obstacle to eradication and reduction timelines for measles is the more effective strategy.
There has been a recent resurgence of measles cases. In Europe with three times as many people falling victim to it in 2007. 2011 was the worst year for a peak in measles with 222 reported cases in the US. Most of these, it has to be said, were imported by non-American visitors from countries where it is endemic. Concerns over vaccine safety and a generation that has forgotten or never known how serious the disease can be, is the accepted reason for this upsurge.
Medecins Sans Frontiere have reported a huge increase in measles all across Africa because of three reasons; 1) donors have not been living up to their commitments on campaigns, 2) promised funding has not been forthcoming and 3) weak and or corrupt systems in many countries. This means the 75% decrease in measles is probably a peak which will not be seen again any year soon.