According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of cases and deaths from measles increased last year due to insufficient vaccination over the years. In the past year, 37 countries experienced larger outbreaks, compared to 22 the previous year. The WHO reported an estimated 136,000 deaths worldwide, a 43 percent increase from the previous year, and approximately nine million cases, an 18 percent increase. Children, in particular, are affected.
Measles is rightly referred to as an “inequality virus.” It is a disease that targets and affects those who are not protected. Kate O’Brien, WHO Director for Immunization, Vaccines, and Biologicals, emphasized that children everywhere have the right to be protected through life-saving measles vaccination, regardless of their location.
Measles is a highly contagious viral infection transmitted through droplets, such as when infected individuals cough or sneeze. Symptoms typically include fever, cough, runny nose, and inflammation in the nose and throat, followed by a rash. Complications, including life-threatening encephalitis, occur in one out of every ten cases. Measles can be prevented with two vaccine doses.
Globally, approximately 83 percent of people have received a first vaccine dose in their lifetime, and 74 percent have received a second dose. However, according to the WHO, 95 percent of the population should be vaccinated to prevent major outbreaks. The disruption of vaccination programs due to the COVID-19 pandemic is a concern, and it is alarming that comprehensive vaccination has not resumed in many countries post-pandemic. Countries in Africa, as well as India, Indonesia, and Brazil, are particularly affected. Since 2000, more than 56 million lives have been saved through vaccination, according to the WHO.
John Vertefeuille, Director of the Global Immunization Division of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), stated that the increase in measles outbreaks and deaths is alarming but not unexpected, given the declining vaccination rates in recent years. Measles cases pose a risk everywhere for countries and communities with insufficient vaccination. Urgent and targeted efforts are crucial to prevent measles cases and deaths.