WHO Finds Fewer Deaths From Measles Worldwide
April 24, 2012

WHO Finds Fewer Deaths From Measles Worldwide

A new study by the World Health Organization (WHO) finds the number of deaths worldwide caused by measles has dropped about three-quarters over the past decade. While the number has universally dropped, most of the deaths occurred in India and Africa, where immunizations aren´t as accessible to children.

According to health officials, nearly 9.6 million children were saved from measles in between 2000 and 2010, thanks to vaccination campaigns rolled out during this time. These campaigns were quite effective, reducing the number of deaths from 535,300 to about 139,300, or 74%.

There is a major caveat in the new WHO study, however: Researchers only had data from 65 countries, relying on models to come up with numbers from the other 128 countries left out of the study. Though these numbers show a huge improvement, they aren´t as impressive as WHO had hoped, as they had planned to cut measles deaths by 90% by 2010.

“This is still a huge success,” said Peter Strebel, one of the authors of the study and a WHO measles expert, according to the Associated Press (AP).

“You don´t reduce measles deaths by three quarters without significantly accelerating efforts.”

Strebel also went on to mention the 85% global vaccination coverage is the highest its ever been.

The study has been published in the journal, The Lancet.

Measles remains one of the most infectious diseases and mostly affects children. The disease causes a fever, a cough and a rash to spread all over the body. For every 1,000 children infected with measles, one to two will die from it. Children aren´t the only ones vulnerable to measles, however: Pregnant women can also contract the disease, putting them at risk for miscarriage or premature birth.

Prior attempts to eradicate the measles have left health officials wondering if it can be done. The only human disease to be completely removed from the world is smallpox.

“I am cautious about adopting too many eradication campaigns at once,” Nancy Leys Stepan, a professor at Columbia University, told the AP. She did not participate in the study.

According to Stepan, eradicating a disease is hard work, and getting good enough data only multiplies this difficulty. Therefore, it may be best to continue efforts to reduce the measles rather than try to eradicate it.

Recently, the disease has seen a surge in Europe as the number of infected people has tripled since 2007. Doctors attribute this increase to a skepticism about the vaccine as well as an aloof attitude towards the disease.

The majority of measles deaths came from Africa and India, which accounted for a combined 79% of deaths between 2000 and 2010.

Anthony Lake, executive director of UNICEF told BBC News that an estimated 382 children die from measles everyday in these two countries.

"Every one of them could have been saved by a vaccine," he said.

Dr Okwo-Bele, director of immunization, vaccines and biologicals at the WHO, told BBC's James Gallagher: "We have reason to be optimistic that the 95% goal will be achieved by 2015."


Image Caption: Measles in a Nigerian child. This view shows the redness well. Credit: Mike Blyth/Wikipedia