Highlighted in a publication by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), measles cases worldwide increased to 869,770 in 2019, the highest number reported since 1996, with increases in all WHO regions. Global measles deaths climbed nearly 50 per cent since 2016, claiming an estimated 207,500 lives in 2019 alone.
“We know how to prevent measles outbreaks and deaths,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “These data send a clear message that we are failing to protect children from measles in every region of the world. We must collectively work to support countries and engage communities to reach everyone, everywhere with measles vaccine and stop this deadly virus.”
Covid-19 should not hinder efforts to reduce measles
Although reported cases of measles are lower in 2020, necessary efforts to control Covid-19 have resulted in disruptions in vaccination and crippled efforts to prevent and minimise measles outbreaks. As of November, more than 94 million people were at risk of missing vaccines due to paused measles campaigns in 26 countries. Many of these countries are experiencing ongoing outbreaks. Of countries with postponed planned 2020 campaigns, only eight (Brazil, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nepal, Nigeria, Philippines and Somalia) resumed their campaigns after initial delays.
“These alarming figures should act as a warning that, with the Covid-19 pandemic occupying health systems across the world, we cannot afford to take our eye off the ball when it comes to other deadly diseases. Measles is entirely preventable; in a time in which we have a powerful, safe and cost-effective vaccine, nobody should still be dying of this disease”, said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “Covd-19 has resulted in dangerous declines in immunisation coverage, leading to increased risk of measles outbreaks. This is why countries urgently need to prioritise measles catch-up immunisation through routine services to mitigate the risk of outbreaks and ensure no child goes without this lifesaving vaccine.”
These high numbers of measles deaths are something travellers should be aware of, especially families travelling with children to areas where cases are particularly high. This poses a threat to both leisure travelling families and expat families. Travellers should ensure that all members of their travelling party have the most up-to-date vaccinations available so as to not hinder the issue further, and, as always, travel agencies have a responsibility to keep abreast of these issues to educate prospective travellers.