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Americas declared world's first measles free region

Globally, measles remains a leading cause of death among young children in the developing world. In photo: Miami Children's Hospital pediatrician Dr. Amanda Porro, M.D prepares to administer a measles vaccination on January 28, 2015. Photograph: (Getty)

New York, United States Sep 27, 2016, 09.22 PM (IST)

The Pan American Health Organization on Tuesday declared the Americas as the world's first measles free region.

The milestone was confirmed after no cases of the highly contagious disease originating in the Americas were recorded in at least three years, the PAHO said, Reuters reported.

A 22-year vaccination drive was aimed at the contagous disease which continues to infect thousands of people globally.

"This is truly a historic deed," said Carissa Etienne, director of the PAHO, which serves as the World Health Organization's (WHO) regional office for the Americas.

The last case originating in the region was reported in 2002 in Venezuela, PAHO said. However, the region was declared measles free only this year.

Experts at the Pan American Health Organization in Washington cited several reasons for the delay: poor communication between local and national health departments in some countries, large numbers of unvaccinated mobile migrants in others, and parts of other countries that were unreachable because of fighting, The New York Times reported.

An outbreak of imported cases of measles could still happen in the Americas, said Justin Lessler, an epidemiology expert at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.

"People still need to be vaccinated to maintain elimination," he said.

Measles in one of the most infectious diseases known, killing an estimated 314 people every day. According to the WHO, the virus that can lead to deadly complications like diarrhea, dehydration, respiratory infection and encephalitis.

The disease caused 2.6 million deaths a year worldwide - 12,000 of them in the Americas, before a worldwide vaccination drive against the disease began in the 1980s, according to PAHO.

Measles is the fifth vaccine-preventable disease to be eliminated in the Americas - after smallpox in 1971, poliomyelitis in 1994, and rubella and congenital rubella syndrome in 2015, the PAHO said.

(WION with inputs from Reuters)

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