Zero new cases of measles were reported in 2012, marking a steep decline from the hundreds of cases reported in previous years, the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation (WHO) said yesterday.
Strengthened national immunisation efforts and improved monitoring of the disease – particularly in communities unlikely to have been vaccinated previously – were responsible for the dramatic decrease from 700 cases in 2011 and well over 1,000 cases in previous years, health officials said.
“An important factor in the success of the recent measles campaign in 2011 to 2012 was the collaboration between health centre staff, community leaders, village health volunteers and parents to identify and vaccinate infants and children in high-risk communities, who often miss their routine dose of measles vaccine,” Minister of Health Dr Mam Bunheng said.
The WHO’s Richard Duncan agreed, saying efforts to target high risk ethnic and migrant communities were a large part of the reason Cambodia numbered among just a handful of countries in the Western Pacific region to see no cases of the highly infectious disease in 2012.
Duncan, a technical officer specialising in immunisation, added that with nearly 950 suspected cases in Cambodia confirmed negative in the national lab, improved reporting made health officials confident the zero reported cases accurately reflected reality.
Cambodia began immunising nine-month-old infants for measles in 1986, and since then, the National Immunisation Program has conducted several nationwide immunisation campaigns against the virus, which can cause a rash and flu-like symptoms and lead to serious complications like pneumonia.
To buttress efforts at eradication, the government program, supported by several international organisations including the WHO and UNICEF, started in 2012 administering a second dose of measles vaccine to children at 18 months old.
The last case of the disease recorded by the program in Cambodia occurred in November 2011 in Kampong Speu province.
Nevertheless, health officials stressed that going forward, continued work was necessary to keep the disease in check.
Duncan said Cambodia still was prepared to find some measles cases in the next few years due to the possibility of infected individuals entering from other countries in the region, but said good monitoring and vaccination coverage within the country should stop the disease’s spread.
In the past year, Vietnam saw more than 400 confirmed measles cases, Malaysia more than 1,900 and China more than 4,800, according to the WHO, though Duncan noted that these countries’ larger populations were a factor that made them more likely than Cambodia to see outbreaks.
WHO Cambodia’s representative Dr Pieter Van Maaren said he was “confident that Cambodia can maintain its achievement of having no measles cases for another two years, so that the country can be certified as measles-free by WHO”.
To contact the reporter on this story: Justine Drennan at [email protected]