Measles has been eliminated in America, from Canada to Chile, the World Health Organization declared.
Although it has been eliminated in individual countries, such as the United States it's the first time the highly contagious virus has been eliminated in an entire region.
It was sustained vaccination campaigns that got the job done, WHO said.
"Today we say bye-bye to the indigenous transmission of measles," Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Americas arm of WHO, told a meeting of the organization in Washington.
‘Measles is one of the most contagious diseases and affects primarily children. It is transmitted by airborne droplets or via direct contact with secretions from the nose, mouth and throat of infected individuals.’
"After a year of targeted actions and enhanced surveillance, the last case of measles in Brazil was registered in July 2015," PAHO said.
Eradication and elimination are two different things. When a disease is eradicated, it doesn't exist anywhere. Elimination means there are no more homegrown cases but the infection can still be imported from elsewhere to cause outbreaks.
Chan said it took "dedicated financing and strong political commitment" to keep the needed immunization programs going across the region — including vaccination campaigns in remote forests and in areas made dangerous by conflict.
"Many have risked their lives and continue to risk their lives to save the lives of others," said Dr. Merceline Dahl-Regis, the former chief medical officer of the Bahamas who chaired the committee leading the elimination effort.
There's been a measles vaccine since the 1960s. Before mass vaccination began in the 1980s, measles killed nearly 2.6 million people a year, WHO says.
"We cannot become complacent with this achievement, but must rather protect it carefully. Measles still circulates widely in other parts of the world, and so we must be prepared to respond to imported cases," she said.
"It is critical that we continue to maintain high vaccination coverage rates, and it is crucial that any suspected measles cases be immediately reported to the authorities for rapid follow-up."