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Experts Start Verifying Measles, Rubella Elimination in the Americas
Washington, D.C. December 10, 2010 (PAHO) – A group of international experts today is detailing how they will conclude the process of documenting and verifying the
elimination of measles, rubella, and congenital rubella syndrome in the Americas.
The first meeting of an International Expert Committee on the topic, held at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)
today, is developing a plan of action that would confirm the elimination of these vaccine-preventable diseases from the
Americas, using scientific tools, national commissions, surveillance, and analysis. The group is chaired by Dr.
Merceline Dahl-Regis, Chief Medical Officer of the Bahamas, and includes epidemiologists and other experts from other
countries throughout the Americas.
Measles, one of the most contagious diseases in the world, is one of the leading causes of death among young children,
despite the fact that a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available. The Region of the Americas reported its last
endemic case of measles in November 2002, eight years after calling for measles elimination. All subsequent cases have
been imported or import-related measles. However, around the world, there are still about 160,000 measles deaths every
year, almost all in low-income countries with weak health infrastructures.
Rubella, which can result in severe birth defects if a pregnant woman is infected, has been substantially reduced
through vaccination programs that have reached nearly 445 million people in the Americas. The last endemic case in the
Americas was reported in February 2009.
The Region of the Americas has spearheaded the eradication and elimination of vaccine-preventable diseases, starting
with smallpox in 1973, polio in 1994, and now moving on to measles, rubella, congenital rubella syndrome, and neonatal
PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses said, “One of my achievable dreams is to eliminate those health conditions or diseases
that still afflict our peoples despite the fact that we possess the knowledge and the tools with which to make them
virtually disappear. We are therefore ethically bound to make a determined effort to implement them without further
Dr. Cuauhtemoc Ruiz, who heads PAHO’s Comprehensive Family Immunization program, told participants at today’s meeting,
“Our regional vision and strategy is to protect the vaccination achievements, complete the unfinished agenda, and meet
new challenges,” with a good infrastructure for vaccination and solid political and financial support to maintain
PAHO Deputy Director Dr. Jon K. Andrus urged continuing the fight against vaccine-preventable diseases. “We have a
unique opportunity,” he said. “Sustaining the achievements of each region will require global vision and leadership. We
also require intensified communications support, since publicity, social mobilization, and messaging are crucial to
attaining high participation and good coverage rates in our elimination effort. This was crucial for smallpox, for
polio, and in today’s more inter-connected world, it is even more important.”
In addition to routine vaccination activities, the immunization outlook in the Americas has improved since Vaccination
Week in the Americas began in 2002 as a joint campaign initiated by Andean countries. Each country has set its own
targets and goals, ranging from initiatives to target high-risk populations, implement rubella elimination campaigns and
follow-up measles vaccination, to the introduction of new vaccines such as seasonal influenza, pentavalent, and
rotavirus. Inequities remain a barrier to reaching those left behind in the Region, and this is a challenge Vaccination
Week addresses by focusing on principles of equity, access, and Pan Americanism to increase and strengthen routine
immunization coverage, improve coverage in isolated and vulnerable populations, and promote basic health care through
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) was established in 1902 and is the world's oldest public health
organization. It serves as the regional office of the World Health Organization, and works with all the countries of the
Americas to improve the health and quality of life of their peoples.