"Endemic transmission of measles has been eliminated from the region," said World Health Organisation director Margaret Chan. "The Americas region has shown that with strong national immunisation programs... dedicated financing and strong political commitment and partner support, measles can be stopped," she added, describing it as "an outstanding achievement."
Measles is now the fifth vaccine-preventable disease to be eliminated in the Americas, after smallpox, polio, rubella and congenital rubella syndrome, according to a statement from the Pan American Health Organization. The end of endemic transmission means the virus is no longer commonly spread locally, although imported cases may still lead to isolated outbreaks. The region of the Americas reported its last endemic case in 2002. "However, since measles continues to circulate worldwide, some countries continued to report imported cases," said the PAHO statement.
Over the past year, from August 2015 to August 2016, all countries in the Americas showed documentation that endemic measles had been wiped out to the International Committee of Experts for Documentation and Verification of Measles, Rubella and Congenital Rubella Syndrome Elimination in the Americas. Measles is a highly contagious virus that lives in the nose and throat of an infected person, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Severe complications can occur, particularly in children, and lead to death by pneumonia or brain swelling.
A vaccine became widely available in 1963, but the virus has proven difficult to eradicate. In recent years, measles outbreaks have risen in some parts of the United States and Europe where parents have refused to vaccinate their children. "It is my hope that other regions of the world are encouraged by the success of the Americas," said Chan. "And that the lessons learned here serve them as they move forward toward their own elimination goals."