"After the victory over polio and officially being declared polio-free by the World Health Organisation (WHO), measles becomes our next achievable target among the killer diseases of childhood illness," Himanshi Kashyap, pediatric consultant, Rockland Hospital, Manesar, told IANS.
According to WHO, measles is a highly contagious viral disease which mostly affects children. The disease is transmitted via droplets from the nose, mouth or throat of infected people. Initial symptoms, which usually appear 10-12 days after infection include high fever, running nose, bloodshot eyes, and tiny white spots on the inside of the mouth.
Experts say that the key public health strategies that can help combat deaths caused by measles include promotion of mass vaccination programmes and increased coverage of routine vaccinations.
"Universal immunisation remains the main strategy. However, measles being an infectious disease, improving hygiene, sanitation, living conditions and economic upliftment of people have to be given equal importance," said Arvind Gupta, head, department of pediatrics and neonatology, Asian Institute of Medical Sciences, Faridabad.
Agreed Sarath Gopalan, paediatric gastroenterologist, Pushpawati Singhania Research Institute, Seikh Sarai, who said that the most effective way to prevent a disease against which vaccination is available is vaccination itself. "A child who has been given the measles vaccine is much less likely to develop life-threatening complications of measles such as pneumonia and encephalitis," he said.
However, on being asked why, despite the availability of vaccines, measles remains a leading cause of infant deaths, Himanshu Batra, pediatric expert at the Columbia Asia Hospital in Gurgaon said: "Poor vaccination coverage and compliance along with predisposition to malnutrition are the challenges".
Batra pegged the global figure of deaths related to measles at 122,000 globally in 2012 or 330 deaths per day.
Gupta blamed the inadequate immunization coverage and the poorly monitored cold chain for transporting and storing vaccines as the prime reasons behind measles resulting in infant deaths.
"Measles significantly decreases the immunity of the babies, predisposing them to serious medical problems like pneumonia and tuberculosis. In the setting of poverty, lack of adequate medical facilities and poor immunity, mortality still remains high, especially in low socio-economic strata," Gupta told IANS.
According to Kashyap, the effort to eradicate measles is an "uphill battle".
"The need of the hour is intensified control measures and renewed political and financial commitment to lay the foundation for future global eradication of measles," she said.
Experts said the intense immunisation polio campaign launched by the government to contain polio should be followed by one to battle measles too.
"Every government has to have its priorities. In the health sector, especially in the field of immunization, a lot has been done by the government and the Indian Academy of Pediatrics. Eradication of polio from our country is an example of the government's determination to do its best for children. May be we need to take up the drive to eradicate measles in the same way as polio," Gupta said.