Measles making a comeback

A sign that says measles warning
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According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a new report states that measles cases spiked in 2017 as multiple countries experienced severe and protracted outbreaks of the disease. The report says that gaps in vaccination coverage meant that outbreaks occurred in all regions and there were an estimated 110,000 related deaths.

The report used disease modelling data to provide comprehensive estimates of measles trends over the last 17 years. It shows that since 2000, more than 21 million lives have been saved through measles immunisations but that reported cases increased by more than 30 per cent worldwide since 2016.

“The resurgence of measles is of serious concern, with extended outbreaks occurring across regions, and particularly in countries that had achieved, or were close to achieving measles elimination,” said Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Deputy Director General for Programmes at WHO. “Without urgent efforts to increase vaccination coverage and identify populations with unacceptable levels of under or unimmunised children, we risk losing decades of progress in protecting children and communities against this devastating, but entirely preventable disease.”

Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said: “The increase in measles cases is deeply concerning, but not surprising. Complacency about the disease and the spread of falsehoods about the vaccine in Europe, a collapsing health system in Venezuela and pockets of fragility and low immunisation coverage in Africa are combining to bring about a global resurgence of measles after years of progress. Existing strategies need to change: more effort needs to go into increasing routine immunisation coverage and strengthening health systems. Otherwise we will continue chasing one outbreak after another.”

Health agencies are calling for sustained investment in immunisation systems, as well as efforts to strengthen routine vaccination services, with a focus on reaching the poorest, most marginalised communities, including people affected by conflict and displacement.