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South-East Asia Measles Outbreaks Are Measurable

January 14, 2023 • 5:42 am CST
by Arek Socha
(Vax Before Travel)

The World Health Organization (WHO) today called on countries to take urgent measures against measles outbreaks which are on the rise, with nearly nine million children having missed vaccination against the killer disease in the last two years.

Measles outbreaks are declared when the number of cases reported in an area is higher than expected.

"The strong political commitment, determination, focused and concerted efforts, and community support that marked our efforts for polio elimination are now urgently needed to stop and prevent measles outbreaks and accelerate efforts to eliminate the disease," said Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia, in a media release on January 13, 2023.

Measles and rubella elimination is a flagship priority program of the WHO South-East Asia Region. Both are vaccine-preventable.

Between 2014 and 2021, the Region recorded a 73% reduction in measles deaths and a 64% reduction in measles cases.

Five of the 11 countries in the South-East Asia Region – Bhutan, DPR Korea, Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Timor-Leste - have eliminated measles, and two countries - Maldives and Sri Lanka - have eliminated rubella as well.

In addition, governments have been administering two doses of measles vaccines as part of their childhood immunization program, and some are rolling out mass vaccination campaigns.

However, as the pandemic arrived, measles vaccination coverage, which had reached an all-time high of 94% coverage for the first dose and 83% coverage for the second dose by 2019, declined to 86% and 78%, respectively, in 2021.

This inaction left about nine million children unvaccinated for measles.

And around 5.3 million children are partially vaccinated against this highly infectious disease.

"The decline in vaccine coverage, and interruptions and delays in immunization and surveillance activities due to the pandemic, leaves the Region susceptible to large outbreaks and off track for the 2023 target of measles and rubella elimination," the Regional Director added.

"All countries have been taking several initiatives to revive and resume childhood immunization coverage and surveillance activities that were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic," Dr. Khetrapal Singh concluded.

The U.S. CDC says measles is highly contagious, with about 90% of people who are not protected will become following infected exposure to the measles virus. 

The CDC's Top 10 Measles Outbreak Country list was updated on January 13, 2023.

International travelers can check CDC's Travel Health Notices to search for measles or other issues that may affect travelers' health. During 2022, the CDC issued various measles-related travel alerts.

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