China close to measles-free status: WHO report

No deaths from measles were reported in China for the last 18 months

By DTE Staff
Published: Saturday 22 February 2020

China has inched closer to achieving the status of eliminating measles, said a weekly epidemiological report released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on February 21, 2020. China is fighting to control a severe outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) from which more than 2,000 died in the world’s most populated country.

“Deaths from measles are now rare in this country of 1.4 billion people,” said the WHO report, which also stated that the last reported death in China from the disease was in June 2019.

The incidence of measles in China dipped to 2.8 per million population in 2018 from 20.4 per million in 2013, a fall of 87 per cent. The incidence of the disease among infants decreased as well, to 14 per cent in 2018 from 31 per cent in 2013.

In 2015, 35 deaths were reported from the disease in the country.

Improved immunisation rates were one of the factors responsible for the decline. Two doses of the measles vaccine — MCV1 and MCV2 — have to be given, as per WHO’s recommendations.

The coverage of MCV1 and MCV2 in China are 99 per cent and 90 per cent respectively, compared to the global average of 86 per cent for MCV1 and 69 per cent for MCV2.

WHO also recommended supplementary immunisation activities (SIAs) for children of different age groups. SIAs are carried out to vaccinate children who were otherwise missed by routine services. They are also given to older susceptible individuals not among age groups targeted by routine immunisation programmes.

The WHO report said 56.9 million children and adults were vaccinated in follow-up SIAs from 2013–2018. As a result, the target population for SIAs decreased by approximately six times to 3 million in 2018 from 23 million in 2013.

Another important factor which worked in controlling measles in China was surveillance. Good surveillance programmes in any country have robust laboratory networks and field level workers who help in detection of cases. 

“Since 2011, measles surveillance in China met or exceeded WHO criteria for surveillance quality,” WHO said in its report.

Around 31 provincial laboratories and one national laboratory in China were accredited by WHO as regional reference laboratories since 2003.

The WHO analysis came at a time when renewed measles outbreaks made many counties lose their status of being free from the disease.

Over 4.4 lakh cases of measles till November 2019 were reported from 187 countries across the world. Four European countries — UK, Albania, the Czech Republic and Greece — lost their measles-free status in the same year as well.

The US had also been warned in 2019 by the its own Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that it could lose its measles-free status too if measures to tackle the disease were not taken.

WHO had listed measles outbreak as one of its top challenges for the years 2019 and 2020.

WHO’s Epidemiological Record is a report maintained by the international health body on the outbreak of diseases worldwide.

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