Experts raise alarm over measles in Europe



Experts from WHO and its partner agencies met to find ways to improve immunization coverage in the European Region, following a recent spate of measles outbreaks that prompted concern over whether enough is being done to get children vaccinated.

At the meeting in Rogaska Slatina, Slovenia, on 21 and 22 October WHO Regional Director for Europe Marc Danzon called on international agencies, governments and nongovernmental groups to raise public awareness about the need for immunization to fight measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases like diphtheria, rubella and pertussis.

"Each year tens of thousands of people in the countries of the region still suffer from vaccine-preventable, life-threatening and debilitating illnesses," Danzon said, adding: "We can save lives by scaling up immunization".

After intensive immunization campaigns over the last few decades, the region was declared polio free in 2002.

WHO's European office said in a statement that due to such campaigns the occurrence of vaccine-preventable disease is comparatively low in the region but that, ironically, the public has become less aware of the risks of non-vaccination.

Although measles cases fell sharply between 1990 and 2002 in the 52 countries comprising WHO's European Region with 27 158 cases in 2002 compared with more than 300 000 cases from 1990 to 1993, measles is still a cause for concern.

Five major measles outbreaks in the last three years and recent scares over the safety of the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine in the United Kingdom and Ireland have raised questions about whether coverage is adequate in some countries and whether more needs to be done in other countries to educate the public.

Turkey had the largest recent measles outbreak with 44 000 cases. Measles outbreaks have also occurred in Italy, Ukraine, France and Germany.

World Health Organization Genebra - Genebra - Switzerland
E-mail: bulletin@who.int