Washington, D.C. – Member States of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) are being urged to rapidly increase their vaccination coverage.
According to PAHO’s Director, Carissa F. Etienne while the 34 PAHO states remain measles free, endemic transmission of the virus has now been re-established in Venezuela and vaccination is needed to stop further spread of measles throughout the region.
“It is vital that we continue vaccinating in order to reach more than 95 per cent of our children everywhere,” said Etienne.
“We must also strengthen national epidemiological surveillance and establish rapid response teams to expeditiously manage suspected cases, prevent new cases and halt outbreaks. These measures to sustain elimination were agreed to by Ministers of Health in 2017. These commitments must be renewed.”
The Dominican born PAHO director says measles circulation in other regions of the world has always represented an on-going threat to the Americas, as imported cases can reintroduce the virus among unvaccinated individuals.
In 2017, there were 149 142 cases of measles reported globally, with the Americas accounting for just 0.6 per cent of all cases.
In July 2017, Venezuela reported the first cases of this current measles outbreak and confirmed that this outbreak was due to a virus strain that was originally reported in Asia and later in Europe.
As of this week, Venezuela has reported 3 545 confirmed cases of measles, including 62 deaths.
A further ten countries in the region have reported a total of 1459 confirmed cases and six deaths.
In the Americas, coverage rates for the first dose of measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine are currently less than 95 per cent.
In addition, lower immunisation coverage has been observed in some municipalities and in specific settlements.
Vaccination coverage rates for children age five years and under must be 95 per cent or greater among all populations in order to maintain elimination.
PAHO says along with its partner agencies, it is working with Venezuela to increase vaccination coverage, strengthen epidemiological surveillance and interrupt transmission.
The organisation has also mobilised financial resources to support the purchase of vaccines, other supplies and technical cooperation activities to help Venezuela and other affected countries halt the spread of measles.
In 2016, the Region of the Americas became the first in the world to obtain the measles elimination certification, following years of concerted efforts to vaccinate children.
PAHO says most countries in the Americas Region reported their last endemic cases more than 18 years ago.
“However, the fact that a disease has been eliminated does not mean that it no longer exists, it simply means that it does not circulate in a specific area” the Health organisation said in a statement on Friday.
A country is no longer considered to be measles free when the same type of virus has been circulating for more than 12 continuous months. (CMC)