Health officials say aggressive efforts to vaccinate young children against measles have resulted in a 74 percent global decline in the number of deaths due to the illness. Experts say the biggest decline, 90 percent, occurred in the Eastern Mediterranean region.
Global health officials say that from 2000 through 2007, the number of measles deaths worldwide dropped from 750,000 to 197,000. In the Eastern Mediterranean, the number of deaths due to measles fell from 96,000 to 10,000 during the same period.
|A baby boy cries as he is vaccinated against measles in a camp for displaced people, north of Goma in eastern Congo (File)|
The World Health Organization, or WHO, has set a goal of cutting measles deaths overall by 90 percent by the end of the decade. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and the Sudan have already achieved that goal, while other countries are not far behind.
But Peter Strebel of the WHO warns that those involved in the fight against measles cannot let their guard down.
"Countries must plan and budget for periodic nationwide national measles vaccination campaigns to make sure all children are protected by vaccination," said Strebel.
Strebel says 500 children per day die of the disease, which is easily prevented through immunizations. The vast majority of measles deaths occur in children under the age of five.
Global health officials say the hot spot is India, where eradication efforts lag the rest of the world. According to the latest figures released by the World Health Organization, measles deaths in India have been reduced by 67 percent during the past eight years.
Last year, officials say there were an estimated 130,000 measles deaths in India.
Edward Hoekstra of the United Nations Children's Fund, or UNICEF, says India will begin stepping up its measles vaccination efforts.
"India is the only country in the world where we still have only one dose of measles [vaccine per child]. And we know if you only give one dose of measles [vaccine], that is not sufficient to give protection to the whole population against measles," said Hoekstra.
The World Health Organization has partnered with a number of organizations, including UNICEF, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the American Red Cross to form the Measles Initiative to wipe out measles.
"In developing countries, measles is greatly feared. In fact, in many of these places, a child is not even given a name until they survive measles. So our work can spare a mother the agony of losing a child," said Athalia Christie of the American Red Cross.
The latest figures on measles eradication are published in the Centers for Disease Control journal, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly.