Last year, Europe saw 82,596 new cases of measles, three times as many as 2017, and a staggering 15 times more than the record low in 2016. 2018 saw the highest number of people contracting the disease in Europe in a decade. The disease can be fatal, with 72 children and adults dying last year because of it, according to the latest World Health Organization (WHO) report.
Ninety-two percent of cases come from just 10 countries. The list, in order of most to least cases, is Ukraine, Serbia, Israel, France, Italy, Russia, Georgia, Greece, Albania, and Romania. Only six out of the 53 countries in the WHO Europe region didn’t have any new cases. Sixty-one percent of people that became infected required hospitalization. The WHO is urging European countries to do more against measles.
It is not just bad news. In 2017, the rate of immunization increased significantly, reaching the highest ever estimated coverage for the second dose of the vaccination at 90 percent. And more children received the full-two dose series on time in 2017 than in any year since 2000, when the WHO started collecting this data. But the WHO cautions being too happy about this: Although the national averages are increasing, the number of cases indicate severe gaps at the more local level. And this could lead to even more severe outbreaks.
“The picture for 2018 makes it clear that the current pace of progress in raising immunization rates will be insufficient to stop measles circulation. While data indicate exceptionally high immunization coverage at a regional level, they also reflect a record number affected and killed by the disease. This means that gaps at the local level still offer an open door to the virus,” Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe, said in a statement. “We cannot achieve healthier populations globally, as promised in WHO’s vision for the coming five years if we do not work locally. We must do more and do it better to protect each and every person from diseases that can be easily avoided.”
Ukraine suffered the most from measles in 2017 due to the huge drop in vaccine coverage during the Russian invasion of Crimea and the subsequent conflict. Vaccination rates fell to 31 percent in 2016. In other countries, it's the antivax movements, especially ones supported by populist governments like in Italy.
The WHO suggests European nations make sure everyone has equal and timely access to the life-saving vaccines. Governments should look at who has been previously missed and make sure those groups are covered in new efforts. Campaigns should be run to strengthen people's trust in vaccines and health authorities.