Although the measles vaccine is highly effective, measles remains one of the leading causes of death among young children globally. Nearly 146,000 people around the world died from measles in 2013, most of whom were children under age 5. On a positive note, because increasing numbers of kids are receiving the measles vaccination, deaths from this infectious disease plunged an incredible 75 percent between 2000 and 2013, which equates to the prevention of about 15.6 million deaths [source: WHO].
Measles is still common in impoverished countries, especially those in Africa and Asia, where vaccination levels are lower. Furthermore, outbreaks are especially damaging in countries recovering from a natural disaster or undergoing a conflict such as war. In these situations, the administration of vaccines is often interrupted, so more people are at risk of contracting the disease.
And when many people end up in cramped quarters, such as refugee camps or emergency shelters, the situation is ripe for an outbreak since measles spreads so easily. Transmitted mainly through coughing, sneezing and close personal contact, the virus can survive for up to two hours in the air and on surfaces. This means an infected person can cough in one room, then leave, and a second person walking into that room two hours later can contract measles simply by breathing in the contaminated air [sources: WHO, Parker].
With a highly effective and reasonably priced vaccine available, the fight continues to eradicate measles from the earth. A plan crafted by the Measles & Rubella Initiative, a cooperative effort between the American Red Cross, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, the United Nations Foundation and the World Health Organization (WHO), hopes to reduce global measles deaths by at least 95 percent compared to 2000 levels by the end of 2015. The group also plans to eliminate both measles and rubella (a related virus also called German measles) in at least five of the six WHO regions by the end of 2020 [source: WHO].