The World Could Be on the Verge of a Global Measles Epidemic According to the WHO

The Covid-19 health crisis led to long delays in measles vaccination campaigns, destabilizing global vaccination coverage and putting millions of children at risk. As a direct result, reported cases have increased dramatically. The UN and the WHO both fear that this delay will be exacerbated by a rapid lifting of sanitary measures and that this measles outbreak will also contribute to a resurgence of new epidemics.

Measles

Measles

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Measles is the most contagious disease in the world: it is estimated that one sick person can infect up to 20 others. It is spread through coughing, sneezing, and nasal secretions, and is most common in children under the age of five, but can also be severe in unvaccinated adults. In one out of every two cases of measles in people over the age of 15, they need to be admitted to the hospital.

Reported cases of measles increased by nearly 80 percent worldwide in the first two months of the year, the World Health Organization and UNICEF said Wednesday. The WHO has repeatedly warned in recent months about the risk of an “absolute catastrophe” if the dangerous backlog of children to be vaccinated due to the Covid-19 pandemic is not cleared and if health restrictions are lifted too quickly.

The result is staggering: according to the WHO and UNICEF, the number of cases increased 79 percent in the first two months of 2022 compared to the same period last year. The two UN agencies now fear that severe outbreaks of measles, a highly contagious viral disease, could hit “millions of children” in 2022.

So far, 17,338 measles cases have been reported worldwide in January and February 2022, compared with 9,665 cases in the first two months of 2021, but the number is likely to be higher because the pandemic has disrupted surveillance systems. The best protection against measles, named for the characteristic red spots all over the body, is very high vaccination coverage.

Deadly disease outbreak alert on the way

In the past 12 months (through April) there have been 21 major measles outbreaks, mainly in Africa and the eastern Mediterranean. The countries with the largest measles outbreaks since last year are Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Ethiopia.

Read Also: Health Crisis: The CDC Fears the Return of Measles Worldwide

Because measles is highly contagious, cases tend to occur when vaccination levels drop. Both UN agencies fear that measles outbreaks are precursors to other diseases that spread more slowly.

“Measles is more than just a dangerous and potentially fatal disease. It is also one of the first signs that there are gaps in global vaccination coverage,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell. According to the WHO and UNICEF, many children missed out on measles vaccinations, in part because of the breakdown of health systems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Covid-19 has destabilized global immunization coverage

In 2020, 23 million children worldwide did not receive basic childhood vaccines through routine health services, the highest number since 2009 and 3.7 million more than in 2019, according to the WHO and the UNICEF.

Read Also: Polio, Measles, and Dengue Overlooked Because of the Current Pandemic

“During the Covid-19 pandemic immunization services were disrupted, health systems were overwhelmed, and now we are seeing a resurgence of deadly diseases, including measles. For many other diseases, the impact of these disruptions in immunization services will be felt for decades,” warned WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Now is the time to resume essential immunization programs and launch recovery campaigns so that everyone can have access to these life-saving vaccines.

The risk of major outbreaks increases as countries start to relax the preventive measures for the control of Covid-19, such as keeping a physical distance.

“It is encouraging that people in many communities are beginning to feel sufficiently protected from Covid-19 to resume more social activities. But doing so in places where children are not routinely vaccinated creates the perfect conditions for a disease like measles to spread,” Ms. Russell warned.

Millions of people displaced by conflict and crises in places like Ukraine, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Afghanistan also increase the risk of outbreaks among already weakened populations.

Read Also: Measles Temporarily Wipes Out The Immune System According To Study

References

UNICEF and WHO warn of ‘perfect storm’ of conditions for measles outbreaks, affecting children

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