Salute as HK gives measles a killer boot

Top News | Mary Ann Benitez 22 Sep 2016

Hong Kong has been declared free of measles by the World Health Organization.

The SAR has achieved the "interruption of endemic measles virus transmission," WHO officials said at a meeting in Sydney yesterday. So it joins Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, Japan, Macau and South Korea in WHO's western Pacific region to have achieved measles- free status.

But it does not mean measles cases have hit zero in Hong Kong. Up to July, six cases were reported this year to the Centre for Health Protection.

"The achievement of measles elimination does not mean the complete absence of the disease in Hong Kong," a spokesman for the CHP said yesterday.

"According to WHO's verification criteria, when a country or area is verified as having eliminated measles it means it has interrupted transmission of the endemic or native strain of circulating measles virus for a period of 36 months."

A vaccination against measles was incorporated into the Hong Kong Childhood Immunisation Programme for children in 1967.

In 1996, Hong Kong adopted a two- dose regimen for measles shots, for one- year-olds and primary one students.

A special measles vaccination campaign was also held in 1997 - when there were 316 cases - with over a million children and youngsters aged from one to 19 vaccinated.

Since then, measles notification rates have declined "remarkably," a Department of Health spokesman said yesterday in welcoming the WHO- conferred status. There were 56 cases in 1998, then spikes of 38 in 2014 and 50 in 2015.

The two-dose vaccination coverage has been maintained consistently at well above 95 percent since 2008, the spokesman added.

In Sydney, WHO regional director Shin Young Soo noted: "Worldwide, measles is a major cause of death for children under the age of five, killing 315 people each day.

"Measles elimination in Hong Kong underscores the strength and importance of routine immunization programs as well as close monitoring of disease using a robust surveillance system."

Director of communicable disease for the WHO region Mark Jacobs added: "Any easing of control efforts can tip the scales with tragic results."

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