Reported measles cases increased in 2017, as multiple countries experienced severe and protracted outbreaks of the disease.
This is according to a new report published by leading health organizations through the World Health Organization which disclosed that as a result of gaps in vaccination coverage, measles outbreaks occurred in all regions across the world, while there were an estimated 110 000 deaths related to the disease.
According to the report, over 21 million lives have been saved through measles immunizations since 2000. However, reported cases increased by more than 30 percent worldwide from 2016.
The Americas, the Eastern Mediterranean Region, and Europe experienced the greatest upsurges in cases in 2017, with the Western Pacific the only World Health Organization (WHO) region where measles incidence fell.
Measles is a serious and highly contagious disease. It can cause debilitating or fatal complications, including an encephalitis-an infection that leads to swelling of the brain, severe diarrhea and dehydration, pneumonia, ear infections, and permanent vision loss.
Babies and young children with malnutrition and weak immune systems are particularly vulnerable to complications and death.
The African region is a key player in the global fight against measles. With the most cases of measles at the turn of the 21st century, Africa has made tremendous progress in its effort to immunize children and to control the disease, increasing its regional measles vaccination coverage from 56 percent in 2001 to 85percent in 2010.
In recent years, however, the Africa region has experienced measles outbreaks and stagnation in vaccination coverage. The outbreaks came as a result of conflicts in the region disrupting the supplemental immunization activity (SIA) efforts, of resistance to vaccination from religious groups, and from the epidemiological shift in measles cases towards older age groups.
The disease is preventable through two doses of a safe and effective vaccine. For several years, however, global coverage with the first dose of measles vaccine has stalled at 85 percent. This is far short of the 95 percent needed to prevent outbreaks, and leaves many people, in many communities, susceptible to the disease. Second dose coverage stands at 67 percent.
In Kenya, babies are often vaccinated for measles in two doses; one at nine months and the next at four years.
Since 2000, an estimated 5.5 billion doses of measles-containing vaccines have been provided to children, saving an estimated 20.4 million lives.
Responding to the recent outbreaks, health agencies are calling for sustained investment in immunization systems, alongside efforts to strengthen routine vaccination services. These efforts must focus especially on reaching the poorest, most marginalized communities, including people affected by conflict and displacement.
The agencies also call for actions to build broad-based public support for immunizations while tackling misinformation and hesitancy around vaccines where these exist.
The Measles and Rubella Initiative is a partnership formed in 2001 of the American Red Cross, CDC, the United Nations Foundation, UNICEF, and WHO.