The Americas region is free of endemic measles, according to global health authorities. This means the continent is the first region in the world to be declared as such.
The last reported and confirmed case in the continent occurred in 2002. Usually, when a country or region spends three years without new cases, the disease can be declared eradicated. Nonetheless, it took fourteen years for the Americas to be declared a measles-free region.
The delay came through different reasons, mostly because parts of some countries could not be reached thanks to armed conflicts, making it impossible to corroborate the lack of cases and the fact that there were an enormous amount of unvaccinated migrants in other countries.
Finally, there was a significant lack of communication between local and national health departments, which also made difficult to confirm the absence of measles cases.
The certification process “is really hard. It’s not an easy task,” said Dr. Merceline Dahl-Regis, from the Pan American Health Organization and who chaired the committee that released the statement.
Dahl-Regis also congratulated Brazil in particular for the country’s efforts regarding child vaccination.
Endemic measles vs. imported cases
The Hemisphere was declared free of endemic measles cases. However, imported ones continue to appear. In the United States in early September a case of imported measles was reported. In another, more famous, example, in December 2014 occurred an outbreak that started in Disneyland and ended up with hundreds of cases not only in the US but also Canada and Mexico.
The outbreak was declared over in April 2015, and the original strain came from the Philippines. However, the incident shed light on the fact that thanks to anti-vaccine campaigns, more than nine million of American infants hadn’t had the measles shot.
The anti-vaccine movement
This incident led the state of California to tight up vaccination rules regarding children. In February last year, the World Health Organization and PAHO issued a statement in which they warned that vaccination rates in the United States and Brazil had significantly declined and that they were now inefficient in preventing “the spread of imported cases.”
However, some experts believe the outbreak was not as dangerous as has been portrayed. For Susan Reef, a PAHO consultant and rubella and measles specialist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was a “tiny issue” compared to countries with endemic cases.
Since it was “a very, very tiny group” who got infected and since the outbreak did not last a year, it cannot be considered an endemic case. Reef also argued that the amount of Americans who got the disease through a lack of vaccination was minimal.
The fight against measles
Measles is one of the most dangerous and infectious diseases known to man. For decades, global health organizations have fought to eradicate it. So far, it is looking good: Cases worldwide have diminished almost eighty percent in the past twenty years, especially since donors began to donate money to emerging countries, which has made possible to vaccinate millions of people.
Nonetheless, as stated by Mary Agocs, an adviser to the International Red Cross Committee, more than three hundred children per day still die because of measles.