Dominican-born Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr. Carissa Etienne, has urged member states of PAHO to rapidly increase their vaccination coverage.
Thirty-four (34) PAHO member states remain measles free, however, endemic transmission of the virus has now been reestablished in Venezuela. Dr. Etienne advises a rapid increase in vaccination coverage in order to stop further spread of measles throughout the region.
“It is vital that we continue vaccinating in order to reach more than 95% of our children everywhere,” Etienne said.
She added, “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.”
The PAHO director says 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 the outbreak was due to a virus strain that was originally reported in Asia and later in Europe.
As of this week, Venezuela has reported 3545 confirmed cases of measles, including 62 deaths.
A further ten countries in the region have reported a total of 1459 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 says that, along with its partner agencies, it is working with Venezuela to increase vaccination coverage, strengthen epidemiological surveillance and interrupt transmission.