HK slips in measles controls

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 January, 2007, 12:00am

Despite high immunisation coverage, Hong Kong lags behind most places in the Western Pacific region in controlling measles because of the unvaccinated mainlanders.

The latest WHO data showed that Hong Kong had 65 cases of measles in 2005, an incidence rate of 0.92 per 100,000 people. This was higher than Singapore (0.76), the Philippines (0.14), Vietnam (0.49), Australia (0.05), New Zealand (0.5) and South Korea (0.01). Macau and most Pacific islands have zero rates.

The World Health Organisation is still compiling the 2006 data, but Department of Health figures show there were 103 measles cases last year. This indicates that the city might be hard-pressed to achieve the WHO regional goal of eliminating the disease by 2012.

The city has not had any deaths from measles since 1990 and its immunisation rate is 98 per cent or more among children aged two to five in child care centres or kindergartens, and among primary schoolchildren, a Department of Health spokesman said.

But the continued flow of mainlanders meant there would be pockets of measles cases coming in.

In 2005, the mainland reported 124,219 measles cases, for an incidence rate of 9.44 per 100,000. It is second to Papua New Guinea's 20.76 per 100,000 in the Western Pacific region. The mainland reported an 86 per cent measles immunisation coverage rate in 2005.

Thomas Cherian, co-ordinator of the Geneva-based WHO Expanded Programme on Immunisation Plus, said migration remained a problem in the control of measles.

'Even when a region has very low levels of measles locally there is always a risk of importing it from regions where the control programmes are less functional,' Dr Cherian said.

Infectious disease specialist Lo Wing-lok said eliminating measles locally would be possible by immunising new migrants and people staying longer than those on a tourist visa.