Decades of vaccination efforts have led to the eradication of measles in the Americas, the World Health Organization (WHO) has announced, saying that the region has become the first in the world to become free of the endemic measles.
"Endemic transmission of measles has been eliminated from the region," said WHO's Director-General Margaret Chan.
Chan added that the success in putting an end to the transmission of measles, which she described as “an outstanding achievement,” showed that coordinated efforts in implementing vaccination programs could also help other regions in the world to get rid of the infectious disease.
“The Americas region has shown that with strong national immunization programs... dedicated financing and strong political commitment and partner support, measles can be stopped," WHO director said.
The organization expressed hope that other regions of the world could be encouraged by the success of the Americas, with Chan saying, "And that the lessons learned here serve them as they move forward toward their own elimination goals.”
The Americas had previously managed to stop the spread of four diseases through vaccination, namely smallpox, polio, rubella and congenital rubella syndrome.
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said in a statement that although the endemic transmission of measles had been stopped at the local level, imported cases might still lead to isolated outbreaks. "However, since measles continues to circulate worldwide, some countries continued to report imported cases," the PAHO statement said.
The International Committee of Experts for Documentation and Verification of Measles, Rubella and Congenital Rubella Syndrome Elimination in the Americas said it had received documentation from August 2015 to August 2016 from all countries of the region showing that endemic measles had been wiped out.
Severe complications can occur in people infected with measles, a highly contagious virus that lives in the nose and throat of a patient. The infection can pose serious risks to the health of children and reports over the years have even suggested that it could lead to deaths by pneumonia or brain swelling.
Fifty years have passed since the production of measles vaccine reached an industrial scale, but the virus has yet to be fully eradicated.