WHO decries 'collective failure' as measles kills 140,000

Henrietta Strickland
December 6, 2019

And the trend of more measles cases reported in the last 2 years suggests few countries may be able to meet the objective of eliminating measles from five of the WHO's six global regions in 2020.

The latest figures released by the Samoan Government estimated that about 82 per cent of infants and children aged 6-months to 4-years-old have been immunised as of December 5.

"It is a tragedy that the world is seeing a rapid increase in cases and deaths from a disease that is easily preventable with a vaccine", said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

This year, the United States reported its highest number of cases in 25 years, while four countries in Europe - Albania, Czechia, Greece and the United Kingdom - lost their measles elimination status in 2018 following protracted outbreaks of the disease.

And 2019 could be even worse.

Xavier Crespin, UNICEF's chief of health in the Democratic Republic of Congo, says only 50% of Congolese kids have had measles shots through routine childhood checkups.

The Pacific nation of Samoa has declared a state of emergency and unvaccinated families are hanging red flags outside their homes to help medical teams find them.

The estimates are from annual modelling carried out by the World Well being Group (WHO) and the US Facilities for Illness Management.

However, there is greater concern now that progress is being undone as the number of children vaccinated stalls around the world.

Media caption'Vaccine fears cost me my children'How are the numbers calculated?

By region in 2018, World Health Organization estimates that in the African region, there were 1,759,000 total cases and 52,600 deaths; in the Region of the Americas, 83,500 cases; in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, 2,852,700 cases and 49,000 deaths; in the European region, 861,800 cases and 200 deaths; in Southeast Asia, 3,803,800 cases and 39,100 deaths; and in the Western Pacific, 408,400 cases and 1300 deaths.

So scientists perform complex maths for each country.

Dr Minal Patel, who performed the number-crunching, told the BBC: "We've had a general trajectory downwards for deaths, which is great".

The solutions involved better vaccination services and boosting public confidence, O'Brien said.

"But we've been stagnating in numbers of deaths for about the past seven years, and what's really concerning is from last year we've gone up, and it looks like we've gone backwards". "Measles outbreaks are entirely preventable through strong systems that ensure no child misses lifesaving vaccines".

"The underlying reason [for the outbreaks] is that people are not vaccinated".

Since then, select countries have achieved measles eradication with widespread application of the vaccine.

The 5 worst affected countries, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Liberia, Madagascar, Somalia and Ukraine, accounted for half of all cases worldwide.

The other issue is people who do have access to vaccines choosing not to immunise their children.

"The reason we're having increases in cases and deaths of measles has to do fundamentally with people not getting vaccinated".

What do the experts say?

Global data suggests 140,000 people died from measles previous year, and health officials say they're alarmed by the rapid growth of the easily preventable disease.

Robert Linkins, a specialist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the data were worrying: "Without improving measles vaccine coverage we're going to continue to see these needless deaths".

And because measles is so contagious - the virus can live in the air for two hours after someone who is sick coughs or sneezes -it's one of the first diseases to make a comeback when health systems start to break down. In 2018, 61% of countries saw more than 90% of their population with at least one dose of measles vaccine, an increase from 86 countries in 2000, but a decrease from 126 countries in 2012 and 2013, the CDC said.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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