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Euro Surveill. 2009 Dec 17;14(50). pii: 19445.

WHO criteria for measles elimination: a critique with reference to criteria for polio elimination.

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WHO Measles Regional Reference Laboratory, Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory, North Melbourne, Australia. heath.kelly@mh.orgau


Smallpox was formally declared as eradicated in 1979. Smallpox is the only infectious disease of humans that has ever been eradicated. Poliomyelitis has been eliminated from three of the six World Health Organization (WHO) regions although not all countries within those regions always meet the elimination criteria. Elimination criteria for measles are being discussed. We use poliomyelitis and measles as examples to illustrate our assertion that the current approach to documenting measles elimination relies too heavily on criteria for surveillance quality, disadvantaging countries with long established and relatively inflexible surveillance systems. We propose an alternative approach to documenting measles elimination, with the two key criteria being molecular evidence to confirm the lack of a circulating endemic genotype for at least one year and maintenance of 95% coverage of one dose of measles-containing vaccine, with an opportunity for a second dose. Elimination status should be reviewed annually. We suggest four principles that should guide development of final criteria to document measles elimination: countries that have eliminated measles should be able to meet the elimination criteria; quality surveillance criteria are necessary but not sufficient to define elimination; quality surveillance criteria should be guided by elimination criteria, not the other way around; and elimination criteria should not differ between the WHO regions without good reason.

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