China on Saturday launched a measles vaccination programme targeting 100 million children in a bid to eradicate the disease, a leading cause of avoidable death in developing nations, by 2012.
The free 10-day nationwide campaign will focus on children between the ages of eight months and 14 years, the health ministry said, urging parents to participate amid public fears about the safety of the inoculations.
"All the vaccines to be used in the campaign comply with international standards," Liang Xiaofeng, director of the immunisation centre at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, was quoted as saying by state media.
In 2009, China reported 52,000 cases of measles, down more than 60 percent from the previous year but still accounting for 86 percent of the cases registered in the World Health Organisation's Western Pacific region.
That figure represents an infection rate of 39 per one million people. Beijing is hoping to reduce that figure to fewer than one in a million by the end of 2012.
Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that primarily affects children and young adults. While most recover from infection, some can suffer serious complications including blindness, severe diarrhoea and pneumonia.
In 2008, an estimated 164,000 people died of measles worldwide, mostly children under the age of five, according to the WHO.
"China is a priority country in the global fight against measles," the WHO's representative in Beijing, Michael O'Leary, said in a statement, noting that some children who have already been vaccinated have not developed immunity.
"Vaccinating every child, even those that have been vaccinated in the past, is essential in stopping the virus with a wall of immunity in the population," the WHO said.