Reported measles cases rose by 30 percent in 2017 according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Multiple countries experienced outbreaks of the disease, including European nations and the United States. An estimated 110,000 deaths have been attributed to the disease.
The spike in measles cases has largely been attributed to gaps in the vaccination coverage. The greatest spike was seen in North and South America, the Eastern Mediterranean region and Europe. The Western Pacific was the only region where measles incidence fell.
“The resurgence of measles is of serious concern, with extended outbreaks occurring across regions, and particularly in countries that had achieved, or were close to achieving measles elimination,” said Dr Soumya Swaminathan, the deputy director general for programmes at WHO. “Without urgent efforts to increase vaccination coverage and identify populations with unacceptable levels of under-, or unimmunized children, we risk losing decades of progress in protecting children and communities against this devastating, but entirely preventable disease.”
WHO has attributed the he rise in cases in developed nations, including some where the disease had previously not been a problem to conspiracy theories about vaccination. However, the collapse of the healthcare system in Venezuela is also a factor in the spread of the disease in South America.
Speaking to the press, WHO director of immunisation, vaccines and biologicals Martin Friede stated, “supposed experts making accusations against the vaccine without any evidence has had an impact on parents’ decisions.”
Friede seemed to be referring to baseless claims linking the measles vaccine to autism, which have been spread on social media by members of the so-called “anti-vax” movement.
Measles is a highly contagious disease that can lead to encephalitis, severe diarrhoea, pneumonia, ear infections and permanent vision loss. Babies and young children with malnutrition and weak immune systems are particularly vulnerable to these complications.
However, it can be prevented through only two doses of a safe vaccine, that has not in any way been found to be linked to autism. For several years, however, global coverage with the first dose of measles vaccine has stalled at 85 percent, whereas 95 percent is needed to prevent outbreaks.
According to the Measles-Rubella bulletin, there were 2,845 reported measles cases in Pakistan in 2016, whereas there were 6,494 reported cases in 2017.