April 24, 2012 in Nation/World

Measles deaths decline with more vaccinations

Fatalities plummet 74 percent; progress short of WHO target
Maria Cheng Associated Press
Associated Press photo

A child is immunized against measles at a clinic in a camp for displaced people, in Kibati, just north of Goma in eastern Congo, in this 2008 photo.
(Full-size photo)

LONDON – The number of measles deaths worldwide has apparently dropped by about three-quarters over a decade, according to a new study by the World Health Organization and others.

Most of the deaths were in India and Africa, where not enough children are being immunized.

Health officials estimate about 9.6 million children were saved from dying of measles from 2000 to 2010 after big vaccination campaigns were rolled out more than a decade ago. Researchers guessed the number of deaths fell during that time period from about 535,300 to 139,300, or about 74 percent.

But the figures come with a big grain of salt; scientists only had solid data for 65 countries. For the 128 others, they used modeling to come up with their estimates.

Despite the major dent, the progress fails to meet a WHO target to cut measles deaths by 90 percent by 2010.

“This is still a huge success,” said Peter Strebel, a measles expert at WHO and one of the authors of the study. “You don’t reduce measles deaths by three quarters without significantly accelerating efforts.”

He noted that the global 85 percent vaccination coverage rate was the highest ever recorded.

The study was paid for by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and was published today in the journal Lancet.

Measles is one of the most infectious diseases that exists and mostly affects children. It causes a fever, cough and a rash all over the body. The disease kills about one to two children for every 1,000 it infects and can also cause pregnant women to have a miscarriage or premature birth.

Past progress in reducing measles has led some health officials to consider whether they can eradicate it. Smallpox is the only human disease to have been wiped out. Other initiatives to rid the world of diseases including polio and guinea worm remain largely stalled.

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