Measles has made a startling comeback in recent years. A new report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found cases of measles have skyrocketed across the world in the past couple of years, increasing by 556 percent globally from 2016 to 2019.
However, the worse could still be yet to come. With the world still firmly in the grips of a major pandemic, vaccination and surveillance programs have been slipping, raising fears that the disease continues to spread.
As per the report, there were at least 869,770 confirmed reports of measles in 2019, the most reported cases since 1996. That figure is also up 556 percent from the 132,490 cases reported in 2016. Since 2016, the number of reported measles cases increased 1,606 percent in Africa, 19,739 percent in the Americas, 194 percent in the Eastern Mediterranean, 2,282 percent in Europe, 6 percent in South-East Asia, and 36 percent in the Western Pacific Region.
It’s also plainly clear what’s driving this worrying trend: a lack of vaccination.
“The fundamental cause of the resurgence was a failure to vaccinate,” the report reads.
There’s a variety of reasons why different areas have experienced a drop in vaccinations. In Europe and North America, a major driving factor is the growing distrust of vaccinations and worries over their safety. This is despite numerous studies showing side effects are extremely rare. It’s worth stressing that the proposed link between the MMR/MMRV vaccine and autism has been disproven and discredited time and time again.
Elsewhere, the trend is driven by conflict disrupting health services or a more general lack of access to healthcare. According to the new report, this second factor is only set to deepen in the wake of Covid-19.
“In 2020, the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic has produced increased programmatic challenges, leading to fewer children receiving vaccinations and poorer surveillance,” the report concluded. “Progress toward measles elimination during and after the pandemic will require strategies to integrate catch-up vaccination policies into essential immunization services, assurance of safe provision of services, engagement with communities to regain trust and confidence in the health system, and rapid outbreak response.”
It’s a problem that the WHO is extremely conscious of. Together with UNICEF, they recently issued an “urgent call to action” to avert major measles and polio epidemics being fuelled by the disruption to healthcare services caused by Covid-19.
“Covid-19 has had a devastating effect on health services and in particular immunization services, worldwide,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said in a statement earlier this month. “But unlike with COVID, we have the tools and knowledge to stop diseases such as polio and measles. What we need are the resources and commitments to put these tools and knowledge into action. If we do that, children’s lives will be saved.”
“We cannot allow the fight against one deadly disease to cause us to lose ground in the fight against other diseases,” added Henrietta Fore, UNICEF executive director.