|Children below five years old comprised most of the measles-related deaths last year, the number of which surged as its incidence rate continues to climb, according to a joint report from the WHO and the CDC / Photo by: Prostock-studio via Shutterstock|
Children below five years old comprised most of the measles-related deaths last year, the number of which surged as its incidence rate continues to climb, according to a joint report from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The report was based on public health data from the WHO, the CDC, and the United Nations Children's Fund. It found that despite the global decline of incidence and deaths due to measles over the last two decades, the worldwide surge of outbreaks doesn't seem to be slowing down.
Vaccines are the most effective way to prevent the spread of measles, but a number of factors are hindering this method to protect children from infections—including poor vaccination coverage and the spread of anti-vax misinformation—and are putting entire communities at risk.
The Global Measles Crisis
The global report on measles found that measles-related deaths have significantly dropped to 73% in the last 18 years: from 535,600 in 2000 down to 142,300 in 2018. During the same time period, the report also stated that the number of reported cases plummeted by 59% (from 853,479 to 353,236) with an incidence decrease of 66%.
This shows the efficacy of the efforts to prevent and eradicate measles in the last 18 years and has since averted an estimated 23.2 million deaths worldwide. By the end of 2018, 82 countries (42%) had been verified as having eliminated the disease, among which are North Korea, Austria, Singapore, and Switzerland.
However, CNN reports that between 2016 and 2018, the reported number of cases and incidences increased. rising from 132,413 cases—that's an increase of 167% globally.
The WHO and CDC determined the five countries that accounted for 45% of measles cases in 2018, four of which are in Africa (Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Liberia, Madagascar, and Somalia) and one in Europe (Ukraine). Meanwhile, the Asia Pacific was reported to be the latest affected region, with measles taking place in countries where it had been eliminated.
Samoa is also in the spotlight of measles infections, with the government declaring a state of emergency and all schools being closed down due to the epidemic. The latest government data shows that the disease already led to 55 deaths. most of which are children, and over 3,880 cases being reported with new cases emerging daily.
Most of the increased measles cases and outbreaks from 2016 to 2018 occurred in unvaccinated people, including school-aged children and young adults, CNN says. Vaccination is the best way to prevent measles from spreading, but the news agency says levels of vaccination coverage have stalled in nearly all regions in the world.
Importance of Immunization
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus, director-general of the WHO, said it is "an outrage and a collective failure" that the world remains unsuccessful in protecting its most vulnerable children from a vaccine-preventable disease.
"To save lives, we must ensure everyone can benefit from vaccines - which means investing in immunization and quality health care as a right for all," he said in a press release.
The significant decrease in the incidence and death rates, as well as the averted number of deaths, from 2000 to 2018 shows the efficacy of vaccines. During that period, the report estimated that the global coverage of the first dose increased from 72% to 86% while the global coverage of the second dose increased from 18% to 69%—mainly because more countries were able to provide a second dose.
But as of today, the UN reports that only 86% of children around the world received the first of two recommended doses of measles vaccine in 2018—those who missed out on the first dose were estimated to be over 19 million. Fewer received the second dose (less than 70%), bringing the total number of immunized kids lower than the 95% coverage needed to avert outbreaks.
Poor vaccination is among the reasons that led to such devastating results, but the report also recognized other factors such as children being in conflict areas or breaking down in services that make it difficult to reach them. The organization also notes that parents don't want to vaccinate their kids because of "complacency, mistrust or misinformation about vaccines."
"This report proves there is a stagnation in coverage," said Robin Nandy, principal adviser and chief of immunization at UNICEF. "This is a crisis and needs to be taken as a warning sign to improve the performance of immunization programs globally."
|Poor vaccination is among the reasons that led to such devastating results, but the report also recognized other factors such as children being in conflict areas or breaking down in services that make it difficult to reach them / Photo by: SamaraHeisz5 via Shutterstock|
A Wake-Up Call
Measles is among the most contagious diseases out there, but it is also one that can be easily prevented. Even with the progress in reducing cases in certain parts of the world, there are still regions where the numbers continue to increase—a fact that is concerning.
So the slow down in progress, outbreaks, and the number of deaths in the last couple of years should serve as a wake-up call to further strengthen the efforts to prevent the disease from spreading. If vaccination is interrupted, there is a high chance that measles will come back and affect the community, thus putting unvaccinated people at risk.
"We are clearly backsliding in terms of progress on measles," Kate O’Brien, the immunization director at WHO, said as she expressed her concerns about the indications of the report. "It’s not just that we are not continuing to have progressed in its control and direction towards elimination, we are now going backward. It is very sobering. The size of these outbreaks is very large."
She said this could be addressed by improving vaccination services and public confidence in the preventive measure. Speaking with The Guardian, O'Brien said social media campaigns are effective tools to take down and correct misleading information as well as direct people to reliable sources.
The WHO director added that healthcare workers should also be knowledgeable when asked about vaccines. Young people should be educated about science, illness, vaccines, and credible sources—considering that they will be the "parents of the future and we really think that there’s a lot that could be done now to essentially immunize young people against misinformation,"