With the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo recently being declared a global public health emergency by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the rise of measles cases in the Americas and Europe, it can often feel like we are losing the battle against disease. However, positive news has come from Sri Lanka as WHO announced last week that the country is officially free of measles.
The last report of a measles case from Sri Lanka was in May 2016. Since then the only reported cases there have been brought in from abroad and responded to quickly.
Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director WHO South-East Asia, commented:
‘Sri Lanka’s achievement comes at a time when globally measles cases are increasing.’
‘The country’s success demonstrates its commitment, and the determination of its health workforce and parents to protect children against measles.’
The rise of the anti-vaccine movement, along with complacency, has seen a rise in measles cases in other countries, primarily high-income places like the Americas and Europe. A rise has also been seen in middle-income countries in Asia and Africa.
The United States had been measles free since 2000 but has seen a comeback. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that from January 1st to 25th July 2019 there have been 1,164 measles cases across 30 states.
In Europe the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) report that there have been 44,074 cases in 30 EU/EEA Member States from 1st January to 31st March 2019. The high numbers of measles cases has been attributed to a decrease in vaccination number. Most European countries no longer meet the 95% threshold of vaccine numbers to achieve herd immunity.
In Sri Lanka, vaccination coverage is over 95%, with children being given two doses of the measles and rubella vaccination. The measles free status is a result of the vigilance in people who are vaccinated, although Sri Lanka will have to work hard to maintain this.
Dr Singh made this clear, saying:
‘The risk of importations of measles virus from countries near and far will remain, specially from those that have significant population movement with Sri Lanka.’