MANILA, 23 APRIL 2012 - The World Health Organization is closing in on its goal of eliminating measles in the Western Pacific Region by the end of this year.

"The Western Pacific is on track to become the next WHO Region to eliminate measles," says WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Dr Shin Young-soo. "We must take the final steps that will be required to make the elimination of this deadly and debilitating disease a reality for the people of our Region."

Dr Shin spoke as public health experts from across the Region met here for a four-day consultation on measles elimination and hepatitis B control. The consultation was concluded on 20 April.

In 2010, the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific reaffirmed the target date that it had set in 2005 to eliminate measles by 2012. WHO defines measles elimination as "the absence of endemic measles transmission in a defined geographical area for more than 12 months in the presence of a well-performing surveillance system".

The incidence of measles in the Region fell dramatically this year to a record low of four per million population from 12 per million in 2011 and 82 per million in 2008. This is largely due to an increase in routine and high-quality supplementary immunizations in such countries as Cambodia, China, Japan, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Viet Nam.

Good surveillance in the Region increases confidence that reported reductions in incidence and mortality are real. Countries are increasingly able to detect chains of measles transmission and identify the virus types causing them.

"It is important for countries and areas in the Region to follow the evolving epidemiology of measles and to identify the sources of infection as endemic, imported or import-related," Dr. Shin says. "We must remain vigilant about identifying and fully investigating suspected measles cases and all of their contacts."

Achieving measles elimination in the Region is made difficult by vaccine coverage that remains below 95% in some countries. Where public health infrastructures are limited, coverage is low.

"Achieving the goal will require additional funding and increased political commitment," Dr Shin says. "Intensified advocacy and social mobilization are necessary to ensure that measles elimination is a national priority throughout our Member States."

Among the six WHO regions, the only region to have eliminated measles is the WHO Region for the Americas.