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By Associated Press Writer
updated 5/21/2010 12:26:44 PM ET 2010-05-21T16:26:44

Measles is making a rapid comeback in African, Asian and even some European countries despite being easily avoided through vaccination, the World Health Organizations said Friday as countries pledged to sharply cut infections and deaths worldwide by 2015.

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Since 2008, funding cuts for vaccination campaigns have allowed measles to spread again where previously it was close to being eradicated, the global body said.

"Being one of the most contagious diseases, measles is making a rapid comeback," said Dr. Peter Strebel, who leads WHO's work on measles.

Measles deaths among young children fell to 118,000 in 2008, compared with 1.1 million in 2000, according to WHO.

But the number of cases has surged over the past year, with large outbreaks reported in 30 African countries — from Mauritania to Zambia and Angola to Ethiopia — and Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Bulgaria.

Even Britain experienced a worsening measles outbreak.

The disease's resurgence in Britain follows a sharp drop in immunization rates in the late 1990s sparked by the publication of a flawed paper linking autism to the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.

Britain has reported 1,000 cases in each of the last two years — more than 10 times the figure a decade ago.

Measles is usually characterized by coughing, rash and high fever, and is fatal in rare instances.

Strebel told The Associated Press that the 64,000 infections reported in Africa last year likely represents only 1-10 percent of the true case load.

Governments meeting in Geneva this week pledged to cut the number of measles deaths worldwide to under 36,650 — or 5 percent of 2000 levels.

WHO said that target would be difficult to meet unless countries put more money and effort into combating the disease.

Strebel said he feared a "return to over 500,000 measles deaths a year by 2012, wiping out gains made over the past 18 years."

The cost of vaccinating a child against measles is less than $1.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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