Rapid increase in measles cases around the world

World Health Organisation cites mistrust in vaccines and lack of healthcare facilities

A medical worker of Myanmar public health department inoculates a girl for measles and rubella during a nationwide vaccination campaign. Photograph: Lynn Bo Bo/EPA

A medical worker of Myanmar public health department inoculates a girl for measles and rubella during a nationwide vaccination campaign. Photograph: Lynn Bo Bo/EPA

 

There has been a rapid increase in the global measles outbreak, with reported cases jumping 300 per cent in the first three months of 2019 compared with the same period last year, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

As reasons for the increase, the organisation has cited a deep mistrust of vaccines, gaps in immunisation coverage and lack of access to healthcare facilities or routine checkups.

The WHO has sounded the alarm over the diseases’s grip on the Democratic Republic of Congo, where nearly 5,000 people with measles died in the first 10 months of this year.

The highly contagious disease is caused by a virus, and typically begins with a high fever and rash that can lead to complications of deafness, pneumonia, diarrhea and encephalitis. And although measles has become largely preventable through vaccines administered during childhood, the WHO estimated that 110,000 people, most of them children younger than five and living in developing countries in Africa and Asia, succumbed to it in 2017.

In 2000 there were 1,600 cases of measles in Ireland. By 2008 the number was down to just 55 and it was 25 in 2017. However, last year there were 77 cases of measles reported, and that number is expected to be exceeded this year. The recent rise has led to speculation that Ireland might lose its measles-free status.

The MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine is available to all children in Ireland, and parents are advised to have their children get a first dose at 12 months and a second when the child begins primary school.

Here are some of the countries that have detected a large number of measles cases.

The Democratic Republic of Congo

The world’s biggest measles epidemic is in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with more than 233,000 people infected this year alone, the WHO estimated. A total of 4,723 people died of it from January through October as the disease spread to all 26 provinces in the country. The measles outbreak has gripped Congo even as it grapples with the Ebola epidemic, which has killed nearly 2,200 people.

Local and global health officials are undertaking tremendous efforts to contain both diseases amid political instability and insecurity. Yet even Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of WHO, has conceded that measles has received “little international attention” even though it has proved deadlier than Ebola.

A Filipino child suffering from measles is treated at a government-run hospital in Manila, Philippines. Photograph: Ezra Acayan/Getty
A Filipino child suffering from measles is treated at a government-run hospital in Manila, Philippines. Photograph: Ezra Acayan/Getty

Ukraine

From Britain to Romania, Germany to Italy, Europe has experienced a setback in its efforts to end measles, with the disease killing 72 people in 2018. Ukraine has been the epicenter of the measles surge, with doubts about child vaccinations leading to an increase in the number of suspected cases in 2019, to almost 57,000 people. Global health officials are currently investigating whether Orthodox Jewish pilgrims to a rabbi’s grave in the Ukrainian city of Uman may have carried measles to the United States via Israel.

Brazil

South America’s largest nation thought it had rid itself of measles in 2015. But the disease has taken root in the country yet again, with the total number of suspected cases this year reaching almost 50,000 as of early November, according to the WHO.

Most of the measles cases were reported in the country’s most-populous state, São Paulo, with Brazilian officials worrying that the outbreak grew after cases were imported from neighbouring Venezuela. There have also been concerns that the measles outbreak has reached members of an isolated tribe in the Amazon who have low resistance to diseases.

The Philippines

Vaccine confidence in the Philippines has plummeted following a controversy in which an anti-Dengue vaccine was linked to the deaths of several children in 2017. As a result, measles vaccination dropped from above 80 per cent in 2008 to below 70 per cent in 2017, according to the WHO, which calls for a 95 per cent inoculation coverage to prevent outbreaks. Suspected measles cases in Manila, the capital, and nearby regions have increased to almost 44,000 as of November this year.

United States

More than 1,200 measles cases were confirmed in 31 states in 2019 as of early November, with a majority of the new cases appearing in New York. The outbreak constitutes the greatest number of cases reported in the United States since 1992, according to the CDC. More than 120 people have been hospitalised from measles this year, with a majority of those who contracted the virus not vaccinated. – New York Times

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