01.07.2012 Switzerland tackles measles
Measles Elimination Strategy. World Health Organization Europe aims to eliminate measles from the region by 2015. Switzerland has also committed to achieving this goal. The Swiss government therefore approved the Measles Elimination Strategy in December 2011. Measles is not a harmless childhood disease but a highly contagious viral infection.
According to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, more than 160,000 people throughout the world, Europe included, died of measles in 2008. A particularly large proportion of the deaths occurred in children under the age of five.
Before a vaccine became available, children tended to catch the disease before the age of ten, which is why measles is described as a childhood disease. This term is misleading, however, as adults can also contract measles if they have not already had it and have not been vaccinated against it. Measles vaccination provides reliable protection against infection and is much less likely to cause complications than the disease does.
National information campaign to encourage catch-up vaccination
To ensure that Switzerland can achieve and maintain measles elimination, at least 95 per cent of children in each successive birth cohort must be immunised against the disease before their second birthday by means of two doses of vaccine. The large majority of people currently aged over 50 are assumed to have been exposed to the measles virus as children and are therefore immune. But many under the age of 50 are not protected. Between 2013 and 2015, the Swiss government and the cantons will therefore carry out a nationwide information campaign targeting these adults in particular and encouraging them to have themselves immunised. In addition, access to vaccination is to be made as simple as possible.
The goal is herd immunity
Proclaiming a disease as eliminated does not mean that it no longer occurs. It just means that it occurs only in isolated cases. Most such cases are "imported" from countries in which the virus has not yet been eliminated. For measles to be proclaimed as eliminated, at least 95 per cent of the population needs to be immune to it. If this is achieved, so called "herd immunity" has been accomplished. The disease cannot spread further, or can do so only slowly. This means that even individuals who cannot be immunised are subject to only a slight risk of infection. They are therefore also considered as protected. But herd immunity is effective only if the few cases that occur are identified at an early stage and further transmission can be prevented without delay. The whole of America, Australia and several European countries have already eliminated measles.
The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) and the cantons, professional medical bodies and concerned organisations have developed a Measles Elimination Strategy. The Swiss government approved the strategy on 16 December 2011 and commissioned the FOPH to implement it. The Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Public Health (GDK) has also approved the strategy.
Simone Eigenmann Schüttel, Prevention and Promotion Section,