The who South-East Asia Region is making rapid progress against vaccine-preventable diseases. The Region was certified polio-free in 2014. Maternal and neonatal tetanus was routed in 2016. And, routine immunisation for diseases such as diphtheria and pertussis continues to expand. More than 90 percent of populations Region-wide are now accessing the life-saving benefits vaccines bring.
To add to the Region’s gains health authorities now have measles in their crosshairs. Measles is a virus that can be transmitted through airdrops, personal contact and infected surfaces. It preys on the young and old, and reserves special ire for the immune-compromised and malnourished. Most disturbingly, it can inflict a range of deadly complications including pneumonia, diarrhea, encephalitis and malnutrition. It is not without reason that a ninth century Persian physician held measles ‘more to be dreaded than smallpox’.
That the Region’s governments have committed to eliminate the problem by 2020 is to be welcomed. Two doses of measles-containing vaccine have now been introduced in each of the Region’s 11 countries. 95 percent coverage of both doses – the level needed to establish herd immunity – has been achieved in five of these countries. Where routine childhood vaccination programmes are less than ideal, supplementary immunisation drives have helped close immunity gaps. In 2015 alone, around 18 million children were reached by supplementary campaigns, while an estimated 640,000 lives were saved Region-wide due to the sum of measles vaccination efforts...
Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh