Death rates from measles fell 74% between 2000 and 2010, missing an internationally agreed target for a 90% fall mainly because of low vaccine coverage in India and Africa where the virus kills tens of thousands a year.
A just-released study led by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that despite rapid progress, regular measles outbreaks in Africa and slow implementation of disease control in India were major concerns and led to the target being missed.
If the world is to succeed in wiping out the highly contagious disease, vaccination coverage rates must be increased in these and other key regions, the researchers said.
"Intensified control measures and renewed political and financial commitment are needed to ... lay the foundation for future global eradication of measles," the researchers wrote in The Lancet.
Increase vaccination to eradicate measles
Particularly in malnourished children and people with weak immunity, measles can cause serious complications including blindness, encephalitis, severe diarrheal, ear infections and pneumonia.
Experts say increasing vaccination rates to above 95% worldwide and keeping them up is the only way to eradicate measles.
The WHO study, which also involved researchers from Penn State University in the United States and from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said the 74% drop meant measles killed an estimated 139,200 people across the world in 2010, down from just over 535,000 in 2000.
The researchers, led by WHO immunisation expert Peter Strebel, suggested India's relatively low measles vaccine coverage - 74% - is the reason why the disease is still a major cause of death there. It lags behind Africa on 76%.
Southeast Asia excluding India had 79% coverage in 2010, with the Eastern Mediterranean on 85%, the Americas 93%, Europe 95% and Western Pacific 97%. The global coverage overall was 85%.
Fear of measles in Europe and US
The study found that India accounted for 47% of measles deaths in 2010, while Africa had 36%.
The Americas and Europe accounted for less than 1% each, but fears about a measles comeback have been growing in these regions too.
The CDC said last week there were 222 cases of measles in the United States last year, more than triple the usual number. No one has died from measles in the United States since 2008.
Europe suffered a major outbreak of the disease in 2011, with France, Spain, Germany and Switzerland recording thousands of cases.
(Kate Kelland, Reuters Health, April 2012)
Measles, Mumps, Rubella