x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Target to rid region of measles forced back

A resurgence in measles cases in the Middle East has caused the WHO to move its target date for elimination to 2015.

DUBAI // The target for eliminating measles in the region has been moved back, health officials say.

The original date was last year but cases of the disease still exist in the Middle East and North Africa region, forcing officials to move the target to 2015.

And a resurgence of measles in several countries last year has continued into this year, said Dr J Mahjour, speaking on behalf of Dr Hussein Gezairy, the director of World Health Organization Regional Offices for the Eastern Mediterranean (Who-Emro).

"The region is witnessing unprecedented events including political upheaval, conflicts, massive [numbers of] refugees and famine," Dr Mahjour said.

"In many cases, these events have resulted in delaying the implementation of the planned activities. It has also resulted in a significant increase in the cost of implementation."

Experts were speaking at a Who-Emro summit on measles, hosted by the Ministry of Health (MoH).

Objectives of the 2015 deadline include 90 per cent immunisation at a national level, reducing mortality rates by 95 per cent and maintaining fewer than five cases of measles for each 1 million of population. The UAE has 94 per cent immunisation coverage but incidence was 16 for each million last year.

The National Measles Elimination Plan began in 1998. In 2007, the plan was widened to cover measles, rubella and congenital rubella syndrome.

Since 2005, the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine has been given to children at 15 months, and a booster between the ages of 5 and 6.

The number of measles cases has decreased from 671 in 1994 to 85 last year, said Nada Al Marzouqi, the deputy director of preventative health at the MoH.

But there have been 138 cases so far this year, confirming health officials' fears of a resurgence.

Hospitals must immediately notify the MoH preventive medicine department of measles cases. The department collects lab samples to confirm the disease and results are reported within seven days.

"Lab confirmation is done for 80 per cent of cases, but unfortunately we are still lacking viral detection and [the identification of] a genotype," Ms Al Marzouqi said.

mismail@thenational.ae