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[ABUJA] Despite the global decline of deaths from measles, Africa must step up its control efforts, otherwise the continent is unlikely to achieve its target of eliminating the disease by 2020, says WHO.

A WHO report released on 7th February shows that globally annual deaths of measles, a disease that often kills children under five years, dropped from more than 562,000 in 2000 to 122,000 in 2012, while measles vaccination prevented an estimated 13.8 million deaths during the same period.

“These gains are a result of global routine measles immunisation coverage holding steady at 84 per cent and 145 countries having introduced a routine second dose of measles vaccine to ensure immunity and prevent outbreaks,” according to WHO.

“Countries should ensure that immunisation coverage is strengthened and made to provide for children that would be born after every mass campaign.”

Oyewale Tomori, The Nigerian Academy of Science

But Fadéla Chaib, a Geneva-based WHO spokesperson, says: “The African region still needs to improve routine coverage, especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Nigeria, where most children missing [the] measles vaccine live”.

Chaib adds that while many countries have strong surveillance systems that provide critical data to guide national immunisation programmes, some in Africa still need to strengthen and upgrade their systems to ensure all cases are laboratory-confirmed and reported with all necessary information.

“The member states of the WHO Regional Office for Africa set a goal of measles elimination by 2020 at their meeting in 2011,” she says. “But based on current progress, the region is not on track to meeting this goal. It is certainly time for the African continent to have freedom from measles, polio and other killer diseases that can be prevented (and eliminated) through vaccination.”

Oyewale Tomori, the president of the Nigerian Academy of Science, says the new WHO report shows Africa has made modest gains overall, but individual countries such as Nigeria need to do more.

“The mass vaccination was responsible for the decline documented by WHO but since then, the situation has changed — a lot of children have been born and some countries, including Nigeria didn't follow up on the routine immunisation to cover children born after the mass vaccination,” he tells SciDev.Net.

A measles alert statement he signed for the academy on 3rd February notes that shortage of vaccines was mainly responsible for Nigeria’s measles cases rising from 11,061 in 2012 to 57,892 in 2013 — more than 500 per cent increase.

Tomori adds: “Africa can sustain the progress so far recorded in the attempt to reduce mortality from measles provided routine immunisation is put in proper perspective. Countries should ensure that immunisation coverage is strengthened and made to provide for children that would be born after every mass campaign”.

The academy urges the Nigerian government to prioritise immunisation funding in its annual budget and pursue the local manufacture of vaccines for preventable diseases.

Link to full WHO report

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.

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