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WHO wants tougher fight against measles

February 25, 2015

The number of measles cases dropped by half between 2013 and 2014, but the current number of infections still remains too high to reach elimination targets on time, according to the World Health Organization.

Image: public domain

Thousands of people in Europe and Central Asia have been infected with measles since the beginning of last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) said with the release of its latest figures on Wednesday.

"It is unacceptable that, after the last 50 years' efforts to make safe and effective vaccines available, measles continues to cost lives, money and time," WHO's European director, Zsuzsanna Jakab, said, adding that she was "taken aback" by the high numbers.

The rate of measles has dropped in those regions by an estimated 96 percent over the past two decades and was nearly halved between 2013 and 2014.

However, according to the UN's findings, over 22,000 cases of measles were reported in seven nations across Europe and Central Asia since the beginning of 2014.

Kyrgyzstan had 7,500 cases, the highest number reported, followed by Bosnia, which reported over 5,300. Over 3,000 people in Russia contracted measles during the same time period.

In Europe, Italy and Germany reported the highest numbers, with roughly 1,600 and 570, respectively.

Jakab said the large numbers threatened to derail the goal of eliminating measles by the end of 2015 and urged health officials to work toward "a collective response" aimed at closing immunization gaps "without further delay."

Toddler dies of measles in Berlin

On Tuesday, health officials in Berlin confirmed that an 18-month-old toddler had died of the infectious disease.

The present outbreak of measles in Germany has affected primarily residents in the country's capital since October, with a smaller outbreak reported during the same time period in Leipzig.

Experts said earlier this month that the spike in the number of measles infections in Berlin had been traced to unvaccinated refugees. At least two cases, however, appear to have originated from the United States. Public health officials in California are also currently battling a measles outbreak, the first in the US since measles was declared eliminated in 2000.

Its sudden re-emergence has been blamed on an anti-vaccination movement, whose supporters fear autism can be linked to vaccinations.

kms/sms (AP, Reuters)