GENEVA, April 24 (Xinhua) -- The World Health Organization (WHO) and its partners announced Tuesday a global strategy aimed at reducing measles deaths and congenital rubella syndrome to zero.
The Measles and Rubella Initiative, co-launched by the American Red Cross, the United Nations Foundation, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the WHO, presents a five-pronged strategy to cut global measles deaths by at least 95 percent by 2015 compared with 2000 levels and to achieve measles and rubella elimination in at least five WHO regions by 2020.
The strategies include high vaccination coverage, monitoring spread of disease using laboratory-backed surveillance, outbreak preparedness and response and measles case management, communication and community engagement, and research and development.
The announcement comes after a new study published Tuesday in "Lancet", showing that accelerated efforts to reduce measles deaths have resulted in a 74 percent reduction in global measles mortality, from an estimated 535,300 deaths in 2000 to 139,300 in 2010.
Peter Strebel, WHO Group Leader of the Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals, said that from 2000 to 2010, an estimated 9.6 million measles-related deaths have been avoided worldwide mainly thanks to vaccination.
Through increased routine immunization coverage and large-scale immunization campaigns, sub-Saharan Africa made the most progress with an 85 percent drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2010.
Since 2001, the Measles Initiative, led also by the five organizations, has supported 80 countries and regions to deliver more than one billion doses of measles vaccine, helped raise measles vaccinatoin coverage to 85 percent globally.
The new data shows that progress in reducing measles deaths was especially strong from 2001 to 2008, however, when investment and political commitment to measles control faltered in 2008 and 2009, many children were not immunized.
Measles caused large outbreaks in Africa, Asia, Eastern Mediterranean and Europe. In 2010, an estimated 19 million infants, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and South-East Asia, did not receive measles vaccine. India alone accounted for about 47 percent of global measles deaths in 2010, followed by Africa, a 36 percent.
Under the new strategy, 62 countries and regions currently not using rubella vaccine are encouraged to use their measles vaccinaion delivery system to introduce rubella vaccine into their national immunization schedule and protect families against both diseases with one combined shot as measles and rubella vaccines are routinely combined in a single shot.
"A three-quarters drop in measles deaths worldwide shows just how effective well-run vaccination programs can be. Now we need to take the next logical step and vaccinate children against rubella, too," said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan.
From 2012, developing countries can apply to GAVI for financial support with the combined measles-rubella vaccine and GAVI will also continue to offer the measles second dose vaccine.