COVID-19 appears to be easing its grip on some parts of the world, but the pandemic has inadvertently led to a skyrocketing number of measles cases around the globe, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.
Almost 17,338 measles cases were reported worldwide in January and February 2022, compared to 9,665 during the first two months of 2021 — that’s almost an 80 percent increase.
There are a bunch of complex reasons behind the shocking rise in global cases, but they largely revolve around health system infrastructure that’s become weakened under the strain of COVID-19, conflict, or other crises. The WHO suggests the real figures may, in fact, be significantly higher due to potential underreporting, also linked to disruption to healthcare systems from COVID-19.
The highest number of cases from April 2021 to April 2022 were seen in Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Ethiopia, according to the new WHO statistics. Many of these countries are currently experiencing violent armed conflicts that have massively unsettled their health infrastructures. On a similar note, the WHO notes that there are mounting fears that the war in Ukraine could spark a resurgence of measles in the country after it has seen some of Europe’s highest rates of measles in recent years.
Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that results in a distinctive rash and flu-like symptoms. An effective and long-last vaccine is available, and high vaccine rates remain the most effective means of protecting a population from infection. However, many parts of the world have poor access to the vaccine and the disease still kills millions of people each year.
Disruption to routine immunizations from the COVID-19 pandemic has further worsened this situation. In 2020, 23 million children missed out on basic childhood vaccines, around 3.7 million more kids than in 2019.
While disruption to vaccines has already sparked a rise in measles cases, the WHO believes this could just be the tip of the iceberg and we’re likely to see resurgences of many other preventable diseases years down the line.
“Measles is more than a dangerous and potentially deadly disease. It is also an early indication that there are gaps in our global immunization coverage, gaps vulnerable children cannot afford,” Catherine Russell, UNICEF Executive Director, said in a statement.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted immunization services, health systems have been overwhelmed, and we are now seeing a resurgence of deadly diseases including measles. For many other diseases, the impact of these disruptions to immunization services will be felt for decades to come,” added the Director-General of the WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Now is the moment to get essential immunization back on track and launch catch-up campaigns so that everybody can have access to these life-saving vaccines.”