July 8, 2014
Mongolia is officially measles free. The Government received a measles-elimination certificate from the World Health Organization Regional Office for the Western Pacific. Mongolia joins Australia, Macao SAR (China) and the Republic of Korea as the only countries and areas in the Western Pacific to have interrupted the spread of local strains of measles for more than three years.
“This is an important step towards measles elimination in the Western Pacific Region,” said Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. ”It demonstrates that measles elimination is not only theoretically feasible, but also achievable in middle- and low-income countries and areas of the Western Pacific.”
At a ceremony in the Mongolian capital, Prime Minister Norovyn Altankhuyag noted the success of the country’s measles immunization efforts over the past 40 years and congratulated health-care workers and parents, as well as WHO, UNICEF and other partners for supporting its measles immunization campaigns.
“Mongolia’s achievements in eliminating vaccine-preventable diseases are due to its strong immunization programme and the government’s commitment,” said Dr Mark Jacobs, Director of Communicable Diseases at the WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific. “This certification recognizes Mongolia’s regional leadership in the fight against measles.”
Health Minister Natsag Udval said that in adopting a national immunization programme in 1993, a law on immunization in 2002 and devising a five-year immunization programme, the Mongolian Government was able to cover 90% of the cost of vaccines in 2013, versus 7% in 2003.
Immunization services began in Mongolia in 1923. In 1933, the country started using a locally produced vaccine against small pox. By 1940, Mongolia became the first Asian country to eradicate smallpox. However, measles continued to threaten the lives of Mongolian children.
“From 1920–1950 basically every child in Mongolia used to fall ill with measles and in 1960s–1980s measles were still the leading cause of death among children from 0-4 years of age,” explained Dr Jalkhaa Kupul, advisor to National Centre of Public Health at Mongolia’s Ministry of Health.
Like many health workers, Dr Kupul said measles–elimination verification is an important milestone of their life-long work. During the ceremony, many health workers and vaccinators from cities and rural areas were also awarded with government’s recognition of service medals and diplomas.
“It’s one of the best days of my life,” said Ms Ulziidelger Unenbat, who worked in vaccine distribution for more than 20 years. “I never stopped alerting people to the importance of vaccinating their children. So I see Mongolia’s victory over measles also as a personal achievement.”
“Today we are celebrating the results of our struggle to protect people from preventable diseases,” said Dr Soe Nyunt-U, WHO Representative in Mongolia. ”I am very proud to be the WHO Representative in a country that can show other middle- and low-income countries the way to eliminate measles.”
In 1973, the introduction of a WHO-provided measles vaccine proved vital. After the successful pilot programme, Mongolia started receiving measles vaccines from WHO in 1974.
WHO aims to help Member States to eliminate measles in the Western Pacific Region by 2020.