WASHINGTON, D.C, United States, Friday August 24, 2018 – While 34 member states of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) remain measles free, endemic transmission of the virus has now been re-established in Venezuela.
And to stop further spread of measles throughout the region, PAHO Director Carissa Etienne, has urged all countries to rapidly increase vaccination coverage.
“It is vital that we continue vaccinating in order to reach more than 95 per cent of our children everywhere,” said Etienne. “We must also strengthen national epidemiological surveillance and establish rapid response teams to expeditiously manage suspected cases, prevent new cases and halt outbreaks. These measures to sustain elimination were agreed to by Ministers of Health in 2017. These commitments must be renewed.”
PAHO said in a statement today that measles circulation in other regions of the world has always represented an ongoing threat to the Americas, as imported cases can reintroduce the virus among unvaccinated individuals. In 2017, there were 149,142 cases of measles reported globally, with the Americas accounting for just 0.6 per cent of all cases.
In July 2017, Venezuela reported the first cases of this current measles outbreak and confirmed that it was due to a virus strain that was originally reported in Asia and later in Europe. As of August 20, 2018, Venezuela has reported 3,545 confirmed cases of measles, including 62 deaths. A further ten countries in the region have reported a total of 1,459 confirmed cases and six deaths.
In the Americas, coverage rates for the first dose of measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine are currently less than 95 per cent. In addition, lower immunization coverage has been observed in some municipalities and in specific settlements. Vaccination coverage rates for children age five years and under must be 95 per cent or greater among all populations in order to maintain elimination.
PAHO said that it has been working with Venezuela, alongside its partner agencies, to increase vaccination coverage, strengthen epidemiological surveillance and interrupt transmission. The organization has also mobilized financial resources to support the purchase of vaccines, other supplies and technical cooperation activities to help Venezuela and other affected countries halt the spread of measles.