Measles deaths reach record lows with fragile gains toward global elimination

6 February 2014

6 February, 2014|Geneva – New mortality estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO) show that annual measles deaths have reached historic lows, dropping 78% from more than 562 000 in 2000 to 122 000 in 2012. During this time period, an estimated 13.8 million deaths have been prevented by measles vaccination and surveillance data showed that reported cases declined 77% from 853 480 to 226 722.

These gains are a result of global routine measles immunization coverage holding steady at 84%[1] and 145 countries having introduced a routine second dose of measles vaccine to ensure immunity and prevent outbreaks. In addition to routine immunization, countries vaccinated 145 million children during mass campaigns against measles in 2012 and reached more than 1 billion since 2000, with the support of the Measles & Rubella Initiative.

Fragile gains

Despite the impressive gains made, progress towards measles elimination[2] remains uneven with some populations still unprotected. Measles continues to be a global threat, with five of six WHO regions still experiencing large outbreaks and with the Region of the Americas responding to many importations of measles cases. The African, Eastern Mediterranean and European regions are not likely to meet their measles elimination targets on time. The Region of the Americas has achieved measles elimination and continues to maintain this status while the Western Pacific region is approaching its target.
Routine measles vaccination coverage is an important progress indicator towards meeting Millennium Development Goal Four[3] because of its potential to reduce child mortality and widely recognized as a marker of access to children’s health services.

Without improved immunization coverage both through routine services and mass campaigns, outbreaks will continue to occur, hampering efforts to meet global elimination targets and prevent additional deaths. The ability to contain outbreaks by improving routine coverage and, when necessary, implementing high quality vaccination campaigns requires countries to place a high priority on elimination goals and to invest heavily in health systems improvements.

Large measles outbreaks in 2012 by WHO region

African Region South-East Asia Region European Region
Country No. reported cases Country No. reported cases Country No. reported cases
Democratic Republic of Congo 72 029
Burkina Faso 7 362
Nigeria 6 447
Angola 4 458
Ethiopia 4 347
Uganda 2 027
South Sudan 1 952
United Republic of Tanzania 1 668
Ghana 1 613
Equatorial Guinea 1 190 India 18 668
Indonesia 15 489
Thailand 5 197
Nepal 3 362
Myanmar 2 175
Bangladesh 1 986 Ukraine 12 746
Romania 7 450
Russia 2 123
United Kingdom 2 092
Spain 1 204

Eastern Mediterranean Region Western Pacific Region
Country No. reported cases Country No. reported cases
Somalia 9 983
Sudan 8 523
Pakistan 8 046
Afghanistan 2 787
Yemen 2 177 China 6 183
Malaysia 1 868
Philippines 1 536

The Measles & Rubella Initiative
Launched in 2001, the Measles & Rubella Initiative is a global partnership led by the American Red Cross, United Nations Foundation, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UNICEF and WHO.

The Measles & Rubella Initiative is committed to ensuring that no child dies from measles or is born with congenital rubella syndrome; reducing measles deaths by 95% by 2015; and achieving measles and rubella elimination in at least five regions by 2020. The WHO Region of the Americas has sustained measles elimination since 2002 and WHO Western Pacific Region is on track to reach its goal. All six regions have established measles elimination goals.

The latest data is published in this week’s CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: and WHO Weekly Epidemiological Report:

The Measles & Rubella Initiative join others in celebrating World Immunization Week, April 24-30 to promote one of the world’s most powerful tools for health – the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against disease.