Washington, DC, (PAHO) May 3, 1999- A collaborative effort to eradicate measles from the Americas was approved Friday in a meeting at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), which agreed to join forces with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the final stages of measles eradication. CDC Director Dr. Jeffrey Koplan announced that CDC will provide $8 million to PAHO for the effort.
PAHO and the CDC will undertake a five-year collaborative effort to ensure the successful completion of the measles eradication target. Countries at risk for measles outbreaks have been targeted for special efforts, including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela. The CDC funds will be used to hire staff, provide training, strengthen surveillance, improve communications and laboratory infrastructure, "and evaluate and learn from these activities," Dr. Koplan said.
The PAHO-CDC partnership, said PAHO Director Dr. George Alleyne, "could be described as the last lap in the race to make measles history." It "will also be critical to advance towards the adoption and implementation of a global measles eradication goal," he said.
Dr. Ciro de Quadros, Director of PAHO's Division of Vaccines and Immunization, said PAHO "is urging countries to take a pro-active approach to prevent measles outbreaks," which caused over 100 deaths in 1997 and 1998 in Argentina and Brazil. "It will be critical to implement PAHO's recommended vaccination strategy for measles eradication in full, and include other groups potentially at high risk for measles, such as health care workers, college and university students and faculty, military personnel, and people working in the tourist industry," he said.
The outbreaks in Argentina and Brazil "have again demonstrated the lethality of measles virus," Dr. de Quadros noted, but they have also created opportunities "to reinforce surveillance and to obtain the necessary political commitment to meet the goal of measles eradication by the year 2000."
Already, regional vaccine campaigns save the lives of more than 200,000 children in Latin America and the Caribbean each year, according to Dr. De Quadros, and over 80 percent of children in the Americas under 1 year old are vaccinated against diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, poliomyelitis, measles and tuberculosis.
"We now face a critical juncture" in the measles eradication plan, Dr. de Quadros said. "We have made tremendous progress in reducing measles cases, but we face the danger of importation of measles, so we need to improve surveillance in various countries and maintain our vaccination rates high."
"The experience from the Americas has clearly demonstrated that regional measles eradication can be achieved by using currently available attenuated live measles virus vaccines, and utilizing an appropriate vaccination strategy," said Dr. de Quadros.
When PAHO's Expanded Program on Immunization started 20 years ago, only 25 percent of children were vaccinated. "The Americas are the only region in the world to have eliminated polio and are on track to eradicating measles -- which kills 1 million people worldwide each year -- by 2000," said Dr. Alleyne. The measles eradication plan aims for 95 percent vaccination coverage in all districts of all countries in the region and periodic follow-up campaigns targeting pre-school children
Since 1994, when Ministers of Health of the Americas adopted the goal of eradicating measles from the Western Hemisphere by the year 2000, the countries have made tremendous progress. PAHO's campaign to eliminate measles from the Americas by the year 2000 succeeded in cutting cases from 250,000 in 1990 to 2,109 in 1996. However, staggered outbreaks occurred in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and other countries last year, resulting in over 10,000 confirmed measles cases. So far in 1999, there have been less than 400 cases of measles in the Americas.
The PAHO-CDC collaboration is being carried out under the framework of PAHO's Regional Vaccine Initiative, endorsed by all Heads of State in the Americas in 1988. It calls for partnerships among countries in the Region and international organizations in vaccine research, development and production, as well as surveillance for vaccine-preventable diseases and laboratory diagnosis, Dr. Alleyne said.
The collaborative effort was announced at a meeting with Dr. Alleyne, Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, Director of the CDC, Dr. Walter Orenstein, Director of the CDC's National Immunization Program, Dr. Samuel Katz, Chairman Emeritus of Pediatrics at Duke University Medical Center, Dr. de Quadros, and Dr. David Brandling-Bennett, Deputy Director of PAHO.
"CDC looks forward to greater collaboration with PAHO in all areas, and specifically to eradicate measled by the end of 2000. This initiative is good for the U.S. and CDC, good for all the countries of the Americas and PAHO, and most importantly, it's good for the children of this Region," said Dr. Koplan. "CDC is committed to ending the sickness and death caused by measles, and which can be prevented by an inexpensive vaccine that has been available for more than 35 years. It is no longer acceptable for us to allow measles to continue to take its toll on the most vulnerable members of our society," he added
The Pan American Health Organization, founded in 1902, works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health of their peoples and raise their living standards. It serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization.
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