Measles has been officially eradicated from the Americas, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday.

It is the first region in the world to eliminate the highly communicable virus, which can lead to serious health problems, such as blindness and pneumonia.

The declaration follows a comprehensive vaccination programme against measles, rubella and mumps in North and South America, as well as in the Caribbean over the last 22 years.

"This is a historic day for our region and indeed the world," PAHO/WHO Director Carissa F Etienne said.

She said the success was the result of a committment made by countries of the Americas in 1994 to end measles circulation by the turn of the 21st century.

The last endemic measles case in the region was reported in 2002, with all cases since then coming from outside the hemisphere.

However, Etienne cautioned against complacency: "Measles still circulates widely in other parts of the world, and so we must be prepared to respond to imported cases," she said.

"It is critical that we continue to maintain high vaccination coverage rates, and it is crucial that any suspected measles cases be immediately reported to the authorities for rapid follow-up."

In Germany, for instance, the number of measles cases in the last decade has fluctuated between 165 and 2,500 per year. Approximately one death occurred for every 1,000 cases of measles.

According to the PAHO, measles is the fifth vaccine-preventable disease to be eradicated from the Americas, following smallpox in 1971, poliomyelitis in 1994, and rubella and congenital rubella syndrome in 2015.

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