PHNOM PENH, Jan. 2 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia is moving closer to the nationwide elimination of measles with the National Immunization Program reporting zero cases for a full 12 months in 2012, according to a joint statement by the World Health Organization ( WHO) and Cambodia's Health Ministry on Wednesday.
"This is a dramatic reduction from 2011 when over 700 cases of measles in children were reported and 2008 when there were over 1, 800 cases," the statement said.
The last confirmed case of measles was reported from Kampong Speu province in November 2011.
"The absence of measles for more than 12 months is encouraging news for Cambodia. This means the country is a step closer towards the elimination of the disease in 2012, together with every other country in the Western Pacific Region," it said.
Measles is one of the most infectious viruses known to humans. It can cause serious illness and complications including pneumonia, diarrhea and blindness.
Cambodia's gains towards achieving measles elimination are due to intensified nationwide vaccination efforts to ensure the termination of wild virus circulation and improving disease surveillance systems, it said, adding that these gains will have to be kept up for Cambodia to detect and rapidly respond to outbreaks from imported measles cases in the future.
Minister of Health Dr. Mam Bunheng reiterated his commitment to ensure Cambodia remains measles-free.
"To make sure we get rid of measles permanently, the ministry is making great efforts to continue to reach children and mothers with immunization services, wherever they live," he said. "In 1997, we got rid of polio forever. Now we are building upon those experiences to get rid of measles."
Cambodia's measles control efforts started in 1986 with the introduction of the first dose of measles vaccine for all infants at nine months of age.
Progressive higher coverage with the first dose was accelerated with nationwide measles immunization campaigns in 20012003, 2007 and 2011, which was conducted by the National Immunization Program.
From 2012, the National Immunization Program introduced a new 18 months dose of measles vaccine to further strengthen efforts to ensure the highest protection against measles.
"All children under two years of age will now receive two doses of measles vaccine, the first at nine months of age, the second at 18 months," the statement said.
The global community aims to eliminate measles in five of the six World Health Organization regions by 2020.
"It is indeed a tremendous achievement to be able to say that Cambodia is free from measles," said WHO Cambodia's Representative Dr. Pieter Van Maaren. "I am confident that Cambodia can maintain its achievement of having no measles cases for another two years, so that the country can be certified as measles-free by WHO."