Cases of the measles have increased dramatically around the world, with multiple countries experiencing severe and protracted outbreaks of the disease in recent years. Measles outbreaks have occurred in all regions, with more than 110,000 people dying as a result of the disease in 2017.
While the World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledged more than 21 million lives have been saved though measles immunisations since the year 2000, there was a 30 per cent worldwide increase in cases between 2016 and 2017. Experts are now warning that the huge spike could be in direct relation to the anti-vax movement and people spreading false news about the vaccine.
“The increase in measles cases is deeply concerning, but not surprising,” CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, Seth Berkley. “Complacency about the disease and the spread of falsehoods about the vaccine in Europe, a collapsing health system in Venezuela and pockets of fragility and low immunisation coverage in Africa are combining to bring about a global resurgence of measles after years of progress.”
Europe, the Americas and the eastern Mediterranean region saw the biggest increase of measles cases last year, while the Western Pacific is the only WHO region where measles incidence fell. It has been described as a “serious concern”, particularly because some areas were close to eliminating measles. Experts now warn that years of progress in protecting children and communities against the preventable disease could be undone.
“The resurgence of measles is of serious concern, with extended outbreaks occurring across regions, and particularly in countries that had achieved, or were close to achieving measles elimination,” Deputy Director General for Programmes at WHO Soumya Swaminathan said. “Without urgent efforts to increase vaccination coverage and identify populations with unacceptable levels of under-, or unimmunised children, we risk losing decades of progress in protecting children and communities against this devastating, but entirely preventable disease.”
Health experts say existing strategies need to change and more effort needs to go into increasing the world’s immunisation coverage and by strengthening health systems.
Many against the vaccine believe it can cause other health issues and even autism in children, but WHO describes the vaccine as “safe and effective”.
Two doses of the vaccine are needed to stop the contagious disease which can cause encephalitis, severe diarrhoea, dehydration, pneumonia, ear infections and even permanent vision loss. Global coverage with the first dose of the vaccine has stalled at 85 per cent, but needs to be at 95 per cent to prevent outbreaks. The second dose coverage stands at just 67 per cent.
“Sustained investments are needed to strengthen immunisation service delivery and to use every opportunity for delivering vaccines to those who need them,” Measles & Rubella Initiative Management Team Chair Robert Linkins added in a statement.