Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that is characterized by a prodromal illness of fever, cough, coryza, and conjunctivitis followed by the appearance of a generalized maculopapular rash. Before the widespread use of measles vaccines, it was estimated that measles caused >2 million deaths worldwide each year.
Remarkable progress has been made in reducing global measles incidence and mortality rates through measles vaccination. In the Americas, intensive vaccination and surveillance efforts—based in part on the successful Pan American Health Organization strategy of periodic nationwide measles vaccination campaigns (supplementary immunization activities, or SIAs)—and high levels of routine measles vaccine coverage interrupted endemic transmission of measles virus. The World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) Region of the Americas was declared to have eliminated measles in September 2016—the first region in the world to do so. In the United States, high-level coverage with two doses of measles vaccine eliminated endemic measles virus transmission in 2000. More recently, progress has been made in reducing measles incidence and mortality rates in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia as a consequence of increasing routine measles vaccine coverage and provision of a second dose of measles vaccine through mass measles vaccination campaigns and childhood immunization programs.
In 2003, the World Health Assembly endorsed a resolution urging member countries to reduce the number of deaths attributed to measles by 50% (compared with 1999 estimates) by the end of 2005. This target was met. Global measles mortality continued to decline and, by 2015, there were an estimated 134,200 deaths due to measles (uncertainty bounds: 74,400 and 353,600 deaths). These achievements attest to the enormous public-health significance of measles vaccination. However, recent large outbreaks of measles in Europe and Africa illustrate the challenges faced in sustaining measles control: in these outbreaks, measles was imported into countries that had eliminated indigenous transmission of measles virus.
The Measles and Rubella Initiative, a partnership led by the American Red Cross, the United Nations Foundation, UNICEF, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the WHO, is playing an important role in reducing global measles incidence and mortality rates. Since its inception in 2001, the Initiative has provided governments and communities in more than 80 countries with technical and financial support for routine immunization activities, mass vaccination campaigns, and disease surveillance systems. Through its 2012–2020 Global Measles and Rubella Strategic Plan, the Initiative aimed to reduce measles deaths by 95% (compared with year 2000 estimates) by 2015 and to eliminate measles from at least five of the six WHO regions by 2020. The mortality reduction goal was not met, but an increasing number of countries have introduced a second dose of measles-containing vaccine into their routine immunization schedule. All six WHO regions have adopted goals for measles elimination by 2020 or earlier, and global measles eradication is likely to become a public health goal in the near future.