Global resurgence of measles cause for worry - GulfToday

Global resurgence of measles cause for worry

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The photo has been used for illustrative purposes.

Measles infected nearly 10 million people in 2018 and killed 140,000, mostly children, as devastating outbreaks of the viral disease hit every region of the world, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and the issue is hugely worrisome.  

The global resurgence of measles, one of the world’s most contagious diseases, threatens the huge gains made in fighting the virus in recent years, as WHO officials point out.

Measles is preventable by vaccination, and between the years 2000 -2018, immunization against measles alone is estimated to have saved around 23 million lives.

Yet outbreaks in all regions and many countries - from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), to Samoa and Ukraine - as well as stagnant, inadequate immunization rates, threaten to derail these crucial gains.

The causes of the outbreaks vary but failing to vaccinate people is at the root of them all, and in 2018, case numbers swelled to a near ten-year peak; close to 10 million, with over 140 000 deaths globally.

By November 2019, case numbers had tripled compared with the same period in the previous year, with the most cases recorded worldwide since 2006.

In figures described by its director general as “an outrage”, the WHO says most of last year’s measles deaths were in children under five years old who had not been vaccinated.

The fact that any child dies from a vaccine-preventable disease like measles is frankly an outrage and a collective failure to protect the world’s most vulnerable children, as WHO’s director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus points out.

The United States has already reported its highest number of measles cases in 25 years in 2019, while four countries in Europe — Albania, the Czech Republic, Greece and Britain — lost their WHO “measles-free” status in 2018 after suffering large outbreaks.

An outbreak in the South Pacific nation of Samoa has infected more than 4,200 people and killed more than 60, mostly babies and children, in a battle complicated by a vocal anti-vaccination movement.

In 2018, measles hit hardest in Liberia, Ukraine, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar and Somalia, with these five nations accounting for nearly half of all cases worldwide.

What adds to the concern is the fact that globally, measles vaccination rates have stagnated for almost a decade.

The WHO and the UNICEF children’s fund say that in 2018, around 86% of children got a first dose of measles vaccine through routine vaccination plans, and fewer than 70% got the second dose recommended to fully protect them.

Measles is one of the most contagious known diseases, more so than Ebola, tuberculosis or flu. It can linger in the air or on surfaces for several hours after an infected person has been and gone, putting anyone not vaccinated at risk.

Research published in October showed that measles infection not only carries a risk of death or severe complications including pneumonia, brain damage, blindness and deafness, but can also damage the victim’s immune memory for months or years — leaving those who survive measles vulnerable to other dangerous diseases such as flu or severe diarrhoea.

There is certainly an urgent need for countries and the global health community to continue investing in high quality national immunisation programmes and disease surveillance, which helps ensure measles outbreaks are rapidly detected and stopped before more precious lives are lost.

Prevention is any time better than cure.