Bhutan and the Maldives have become the first countries in their region to eliminate measles, according to the World Health Organization.
This means that both countries have eliminated the highly contagious disease, The Washington Post reports. The Maldives has not reported any cases of local measles since 2009, and Bhutan since 2012, WHO said.
Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director of WHO Southeast Asia, said,
Bhutan and Maldives have demonstrated how a highly contagious virus like measles can be eliminated. WHO commends them for this momentous public health achievement.
Both Bhutan and the Maldives launched immunization programs around 40 years ago, with the goal of mass vaccinations for high-risk citizens. Singh said, “The strongest political commitment, alongside the concerted efforts of health workers, officials and partners at all levels, has helped achieve this landmark success.”
Singh added, “Both countries achieved and maintained high coverage of measles vaccination, despite geographical challenges. They also established strong laboratory-supported surveillance for measles, and have conducted detailed case investigation and tracking, right up to the very last case.”
WHO has said that the deadline for eliminating measles in the 11 countries in Southeast Asia is 2020. The region has prevented some 620,000 deaths caused by measles in 2016, after successful vaccination campaigns were carried out in the 11 member countries. Nearly 107 million children have been vaccinated between 2013 and 2016, Outbreak News Today reports.
Since Singh became Regional Director in 2014, measles elimination and rubella control has been one of WHO Southeast Asia’s primary programs. All countries in the region have introduced two doses of the measles vaccine, and have surveillance standards in place to meet elimination goals.
North and South American were declared measles-free in 2016, but an outbreak was reported in Minnesota last month.
Measles is a viral disease that is easily spread through coughing and sneezing. If left untreated, it can lead to pneumonia, brain inflammation and worse, death, especially in children.