As measles cases rise across Europe, UN agency calls for greater cooperation

21 April 2011

The United Nations health agency is urging European countries to work more closely together to combat measles – which is entirely preventable – after a surge in the number of cases across the continent since the start of the year.

At least 6,500 cases have been reported already, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported yesterday, with significant outbreaks observed in 30 countries, including Belgium, France, Serbia, Turkey, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Spain.

WHO said the outbreaks could worsen in the days ahead as many people travel during the Easter holidays.

“With shared borders and considerable population movement, countries share health threats. There is a need to create strong partnerships to prevent and control diseases, such as measles, in our region,” said Zsuzsanna Jakab, the agency’s regional director for Europe.

European Immunization Week, being held for the seventh consecutive year, kicks off on Saturday in 50 countries across Europe, the largest number since the initiative began.

Ms. Jakab said the week offered the opportunity for “countries to come together and collaborate on joint planning of preventive measures and effective responses to the common threats we face from vaccine-preventable diseases. Only through this kind of collaboration can we achieve the goals of boosting vaccination coverage and eliminating measles and rubella by 2015.”

Highly contagious, measles remains one of the world’s biggest causes of death among young children, an estimated 164,000 people dying from the virus in 2008.

The disease can be prevented through a safe and effective vaccine, and immunization campaigns worldwide have helped millions of children in high-risk areas. The number of deaths from measles slumped by an estimated 78 per cent between 2000 and 2008.

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