South East Asian countries have decided to eliminate measles and control rubella and congenital syndrome by the year 2020. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that $ 800 million is needed to achieve this goal.

“An estimated 8 million children are not protected against measles in WHO’s South East Asia region. Measles and rubella vaccines are safe, effective and inexpensive. The administration of a combined measles-rubella vaccine can eliminate both diseases cost-effectively,” said Dr. Samlee Plianbangchang, WHO’s Regional Director for South-East Asia, here on Friday.

Over 70,700 children died of measles in the region in 2011, which was about 45 per cent of global measles deaths.

Measles is a highly infectious disease contracted by children with low immunity and can cause acute respiratory problems, diarrhoea and pneumonia. It can also result in disabilities such as visual impairment.

While India has made significant improvement in reducing child mortality due to immunisation coverage, measles continues to remain a major cause of death among children, claiming between 50,000 to 100,000 lives every year. It can be prevented by a single dose of vaccine if given when the child is between nine and 12 months, but only 70% of children in the country are protected against it.