Reported measles cases increased in 2017 as several countries experienced severe and prolonged outbreaks of the disease. This is according to a new report released today by major health organizations.
Due to gaps in immunization coverage, measles outbreaks have occurred in all regions, and an estimated 110,000 deaths from the disease.
With the help of updated disease modeling data, the report provides the most comprehensive estimates of measles trends over the last 17 years. It shows that since 2000, over 21 million people have been saved through measles immunization. However, reported cases have increased by more than 30% globally since 2016.
The Americas, the Eastern Mediterranean Region and Europe experienced the largest surge of cases in 2017, with the Western Pacific being the only region of the World Health Organization (WHO) where the 39 incidence of measles decreased.
"The re-emergence of measles is a source of serious concern, with prolonged outbreaks in all regions, especially in countries that have reached or are on the verge of eliminating measles," said Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, Deputy Director General of Programs at WHO. "Without urgent efforts to increase immunization coverage and identify populations with unacceptable levels of under-immunized or unimmunized children, we risk losing decades of progress in protecting children and communities from this devastating disease, but totally avoidable. "
Measles is a serious and highly contagious disease. It can lead to debilitating or life-threatening complications, including encephalitis (an infection that causes swelling of the brain), severe diarrhea and dehydration, pneumonia, ear infections, and permanent vision loss. Babies and young children suffering from malnutrition and weak immune systems are particularly vulnerable to complications and death.
The disease can be prevented by two doses of a safe and effective vaccine. For several years, however, global coverage with the first dose of measles vaccine has been stuck at 85%. This figure is well below the 95% needed to prevent epidemics and leaves many people in many communities vulnerable to the disease. The coverage of the second dose is 67%.
"The increase in the number of measles cases is extremely worrying, but not surprising," said Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, Vaccine Alliance. "Complacency towards the disease and the spread of lies about the vaccine in Europe, the collapse of the health system in Venezuela and pockets of fragility and low immunization coverage in Africa combine to bring about a global resurgence of measles after years of progress. Existing strategies need to change: more needs to be done to increase routine immunization coverage and strengthen health systems. Otherwise, we will continue to pursue an epidemic after another.
In response to recent epidemics, health agencies are calling for sustained investment in immunization systems, alongside efforts to strengthen routine immunization services. In particular, these efforts must aim to reach the poorest and most marginalized communities, including those affected by the conflict and displaced persons.
The agencies also call for action to generate broad public support for immunization, while addressing misinformation and hesitation around vaccines, as appropriate.
"Sustained investments are needed to strengthen the delivery of immunization services and use every opportunity to provide vaccines to those who need them," said Dr. Robert Linkins, Head of Accelerated Disease Control and Disease Surveillance Division. Vaccine-preventable at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and chair of the measles and rubella initiative management team.
The Measles and Rubella Initiative is a partnership formed in 2001 between the American Red Cross, the CDC, the United Nations Foundation, UNICEF and the WHO.
Note to editors
"Progress in Measles Control Worldwide – 2000-2017 Worldwide" is a joint publication of WHO and CDC. It is published in the WHO Weekly Epidemiological Record and in the CBD Weekly Report on Morbidity and Mortality.
Launched in 2001, the Measles and Rubella Initiative (M & RI) is led by the American Red Cross, the United Nations Foundation, the CDC, UNICEF and the WHO. M & RI is committed to ensuring that no child dies of measles or is born with congenital rubella syndrome, and to achieve the goal of the Global Plan of Action for Prevention. measles and rubella in at least five regions of the WHO by 2020.
Measles elimination is defined as the absence of transmission of endemic measles virus in an area or other defined geographical area for more than 12 months. Conversely, a country is no longer considered free from measles if the virus recurs and if transmission continues for more than one year.
The report is available in the CDC Weekly Report on Morbidity and Mortality of 29 November 2018 and in the WHO Weekly Epidemiological Record of 30 November 2018.
Additional information on progress in immunization is also included in the 2018 Global Vaccine Action Plan Vaccine Assessment Report of the Strategic Advisory Group on Immunization, published in November 2018.