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$800mn needed to eliminate measles from South East Asia by 2020: WHO

The World Health Organisation (WHO) needs to pump in over $800 million to eliminate measles from five developing economies of South East Asia (SEA) — Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Myanmar and Timor Leste — by 2020, the global health body said on Wednesday.

The deadline for elimination of the highly contagious infection, killing annually an estimated 134,200 children globally, is 2020.

To keep the efforts of the WHO against the viral disease going unhampered, a total of 140 million children are to be reached with the Measles Rubella (MR) vaccine by the end of 2017 and 400 million in 2018.

“Nearly $800 million is required for the elimination of measles from SEA, such as India, Myanmar, Timor Leste and Indonesia, by 2020 — the targeted time decided by the experts,” said Pem Namgyal, Director for Family Health, Gender and Life Course, at WHO’s Regional Office for South East Asia.

Observing that currently the WHO had only 30-40 per cent of the resources towards elimination of measles from the concerned countries, Namgyal said immunisation programmes in the region were reaching more than 32.2 million children as compared to around 27 million in 2005.

Two doses of measles vaccine have been included in the vaccination programmes.

“Since 2006, more than 345 million children have been reached with the first dose, and over 132 million with the second dose. Estimations are that more than 5.9 million deaths due to measles have been averted,” said Namgyal.

An additional 325 million children have been reached with additional measles vaccine, averting an estimated additional 600,000 deaths due to the viral disease, he added.

Namgyal, among the top public health experts speaking at the 70th Session of WHO’s Regional Committee for SEA here, said that with scaling up of immunisation activities in countries, a 66 per cent reduction in mortality due to measles had been observed during 2000-2015.

“It is estimated that about 620,000 deaths due to measles were averted by vaccination in 2016 alone,” said Namgyal.

Currently, over 4.7 million children in SEA have not been reached, as per the surveys conducted in 2016.

Eliminating measles from the SEA is part of the global body’s resolution to make children free from the disease, as the disease claims over 54,500 children annually in the region.

Among the key strategies used by the WHO with the national governments is high coverage with routine immunisation.

To ensure effective implementation of the programme, a South-East Asia Regional Verification Commission (SEA-RVC) was also established in March 2016, which has so far met twice — in August, 2016 and April, 2017.

Following an extensive review, the SEA-RVC has verified Maldives and Bhutan as having eliminated the endemic measles.

All countries have a functional National Verification Committee, either as a standalone committee or as part of the National Certification Committee for Polio Eradication.

Informing about the measles control and surveillance facilities in SEA, the expert also stated that all the 11 countries in the region have laboratory supported surveillance for measles and rubella.

According to the Indian government, special initiatives have been taken against measles and TB.

“We are resolute about eliminating measles and we aim to do it by 2020. Special initiatives have been taken and the work is in progress,” C.K. Mishra, Health Secretary, Government of India, told IANS on the sidelines of the WHO regional summit.

(Rupesh Dutta can be contacted at [email protected]. He is attending the 70th Session of World Health Organisation Regional Committee for South-East Asia Region in Male, Maldives)

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