The numbers are in! The Measles Initiative, which set out to halve the global measles burden between 1999 and 2005, has surpassed its goal with a 60 percent reduction. A new Lancet study (subscription required) reports an estimated drop in measles deaths from 873,000 in 1999 to 345,000 in 2005 (based on a natural history model to evaluate mortality trends).
For related coverage, see The Economist, the Washington Post, the New York Times and elsewhere. But also be sure to check out CGD's Millions Saved for a detailed account of how measles was nearly eliminated in seven southern African countries in the late 1990s. The case study suggests some key ingredients for the intervention's success: the commitment of governments, the strengthening of surveillance systems, and the integration of measles vaccinations with other health services. Some of these reasons are echoed by WHO director Margaret Chan in an International Herald Tribune op-ed on the more recent Measles Initiative success. She said that "it took a new partnership - with commitment, caring and cash - to turn things around," and noted that the success in countries was aided by their ability to build on the strategies and infrastructure of existing health programs and services.
As usual in public health, this success implies more work to be done. In a good sign that past successes are being used to inform future aims, the Measles Initiative has already set a new goal of reducing measles mortality 90 percent by 2010. Margaret Chan is optimistic that the new measles target will be achieved; so am I.