Measles is a highly contagious viral disease. It remains an important cause of death among young children globally, despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine.
Under the Global Vaccine Action Plan, measles and rubella are targeted for elimination in five WHO Regions by 2020. WHO is the lead technical agency responsible for coordination of immunization and surveillance activities supporting all countries to achieve this goal.
Measles is transmitted via droplets from the nose, mouth or throat of infected persons. Initial symptoms, which usually appear 10–12 days after infection, include high fever, a runny nose, bloodshot eyes, and tiny white spots on the inside of the mouth. Several days later, a rash develops, starting on the face and upper neck and gradually spreading downwards.
Severe measles is more likely among poorly nourished young children, especially those with insufficient vitamin A, or whose immune systems have been weakened by HIV/AIDS or other diseases. The most serious complications include blindness, encephalitis (an infection that causes brain swelling), severe diarrhoea and related dehydration, and severe respiratory infections such as pneumonia.
Routine measles vaccination for children, combined with mass immunization campaigns in countries with low routine coverage, are key public health strategies to reduce global measles deaths.
While global measles deaths have decreased by 75 percent worldwide in recent years — from 544,000 deaths in 2000 to 146,000 in 2013 — measles is still common in many developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Indeed, more than 20 million people are affected by measles each year. The overwhelming majority (more than 95%) of measles deaths occur in countries with low per capita incomes and weak health infrastructures.
The measles vaccine has been in use since the 1960s. It is safe, effective and inexpensive. WHO recommends immunization for all susceptible children and adults for whom measles vaccination is not contraindicated. Reaching all children with 2 doses of measles vaccine, either alone, or in a measles-rubella (MR), measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), or measles-mumps-rubella-varicella (MMRV) combination, should be the standard for all national immunization programmes.
WHO position papers
English and French (August 2009)
- Full list of WHO position papers on vaccines and accompanying documents
- Immunization schedules
Disease burden and surveillance
- WHO prequalified vaccines
- Immunological Basis for Immunization: Measles (Update 2009)
- Vaccine safety (measles vaccines)
- MMR and autism
Planning and Implementing High-Quality Supplementary Immunization Activities for Injectable Vaccines Using an Example of Measles and Rubella Vaccines- Field Guide:
This is a field guide that is intended for immunization programme managers and their partners. The focus of this guide is ensuring high quality Supplementary Immunization Activities (SIAs) that are able to reach the hard to reach populations. The guide contains newly developed and improved tools for monitoring and assessing readiness. It also clearly outlines different options for vaccination strategies for different settings. It outlines the best practices for planning, organization, implementation and monitoring of SIAs for injectable vaccines, and in making use of opportunities to strengthen routine immunization and surveillance. This guide uses measles-rubella SIAs as the main examples throughout, but the information in this document aims to be applicable to SIAs for delivery of any injectable vaccine.
Any questions and comments on this document should be addressed to Dr Alya Dabbagh (firstname.lastname@example.org)
SIA Readiness Assessment Tool
- Global Measles and Rubella Strategic Plan 2012-2020
Measles strategic planning tool (v. 2.0)
Framework for verifying elimination of measles and rubella
- Measles outbreak response guidelines
- Guide to Introducing a Measles Second Dose (MCV2) into Routine Immunization Schedules
- Introducing Rubella Vaccine into National Immunization Programmes
- WHO health topic on measles
Measles and Rubella Global Strategic Plan 2012-2020 Midterm Review
- Measles and Rubella Initiative
MRI annual report 2013
- Standard Operating Procedures to access Measles Outbreak Response Fund (June 2014)
- Schedule of upcoming Measles and Rubella supplementary immunization activities
Last updated: 11 July 2016