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Spike in measles cases, deaths worldwide: WHO

Our Bureau Mumbai | Updated on November 13, 2020

Vaccination delays, Covid-19 impact cited as reasons for a sharp rise in outbreaks

Measles cases across the world spiked to the highest number in 23 years in 2019 due to delays in vaccination, the World Health Organization said.

Worryingly, deaths from global measles also climbed nearly 50 per cent since 2016, claiming an estimated 2,07,500 lives in 2019 alone. In a publication with the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the WHO said global cases increased to 8,69,770 in 2019.

Comparing 2019 data with the historic low in reported measles cases in 2016, the authors said the increase in cases and deaths was caused by failure to vaccinate children on time with two doses of measles-containing vaccines (MCV1 and MCV2).

“We know how to prevent measles outbreaks and deaths,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, adding that the data clearly showed that “that we are failing to protect children from measles in every region of the world.”

Vaccine coverage

Measles outbreaks occur when people who are not protected from the virus are infected and spread the disease to unvaccinated or under-vaccinated populations. To control measles and prevent outbreaks and deaths, vaccination coverage rates must reach 95 per cent and be maintained at national and subnational levels, the note explained.

“MCV1 coverage has been stagnant globally for more than a decade at between 84-85 per cent. MCV2 coverage has been steadily increasing but is only now at 71 per cent. Vaccination coverage against measles remains well below the 95 per cent or higher needed with both doses to control measles and prevent outbreaks and deaths,” it added.

Pandemic effect

Although reported cases of measles are lower in 2020, necessary efforts to control Covid-19 have resulted in disruptions in vaccination and crippled efforts to prevent and minimise measles outbreaks, the note said.

“As of November, more than 94 million people were at risk of missing vaccines due to paused measles campaigns in 26 countries. Many of these countries are experiencing ongoing outbreaks. Of countries with postponed planned 2020 campaigns, only eight (Brazil, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nepal, Nigeria, Philippines and Somalia) resumed their campaigns after initial delays,” the note said..

“Before there was a coronavirus crisis, the world was grappling with a measles crisis, and it has not gone away,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “While health systems are strained by the Covid-19 pandemic, we must not allow our fight against one deadly disease to come at the expense of our fight against another. This means ensuring we have the resources to continue immunisation campaigns for all vaccine-preventable diseases, even as we address the growing Covid-19 pandemic,” she said.

“Measles virus easily finds unprotected children, adolescents and adults because it is so contagious,” said Robert Linkins, Measles and Rubella Initiative Management Team Chair and Accelerated Disease Control Branch Chief at US CDC. “Infections are not only a sign of poor measles vaccination coverage, but also a known marker, or ‘tracer,’ that vital health services may not be reaching populations most at-risk. Our collective efforts to reach children with vaccines now, ahead of the possible easing of Covid-19 travel restrictions and increased population movement, will save lives.”

Published on November 13, 2020

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