The World Health Organisation says Covid-19 has resulted in dangerous declines in immunisation coverage, leading to increased risk of measles outbreaks.
According to figures recently released by the World Health Organisation, measles surged worldwide in 2019 to reach its highest number of reported cases in 23 years.
“Highlighted in a publication by WHO and the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), measles cases worldwide increased to 869 770 in 2019, the highest number reported since 1996 with increases in all WHO regions. Global measles deaths climbed nearly 50 percent since 2016, claiming an estimated 207 500 lives in 2019 alone,” the organisation says.
The WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, believes the organisation knows how to prevent measles outbreaks and deaths.
“These data send a clear message that we are failing to protect children from measles in every region of the world. We must collectively work to support countries and engage communities to reach everyone, everywhere with measles vaccine and stop this deadly virus.”
The organisation adds that a measles outbreak occurs when people who are not protected from the virus, are infected and spread the disease to unvaccinated or under-vaccinated populations.
“To control measles and prevent outbreaks and deaths, vaccination coverage rates with the required MCV1 and MCV2 must reach 95% and be maintained at national and subnational levels. MCV1 coverage has been stagnant globally for more than a decade at between 84 and 85%. MCV2 coverage has been steadily increasing but is only now at 71%. Vaccination coverage against measles remains well below the 95% or higher needed with both doses to control measles and prevent outbreaks and death,” they add.
The Lancet says in a statement that Measles is a deadly disease that has killed or disabled millions of children over centuries.
“Most measles deaths in 2019 have been in Africa, many associated with major outbreaks in Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”
The coronavirus pandemic has had an effect on global immunisation and control of vaccine-preventable diseases, with vaccination campaigns paused in the early months of 2020 and routine immunisation services greatly disrupted in many countries.
“Most countries have resumed routine immunisation and restarted preventive and outbreak response campaigns, however, WHO estimates that by the end of October, delays to vaccination campaigns in 26 countries have led to 94 million children missing scheduled measles vaccine doses, placing many of them at risk of measles,” The Lancet adds.
One of the WHO’s partners, Gavi, the vaccine alliance, believes these alarming figures should act as a warning. Gavi’s CEO, Dr Seth Berkley says with the Covid-19 pandemic occupying health systems across the world, we cannot afford to take our eye off the ball when it comes to other deadly diseases.
“Measles is entirely preventable; in a time in which we have a powerful, safe and cost-effective vaccine nobody should still be dying of this disease. Covid-19 has resulted in dangerous declines in immunisation coverage, leading to increased risk of measles outbreaks. This is why countries urgently need to prioritise measles catch-up immunisation through routine services to mitigate the risk of outbreaks and ensure no child goes without this lifesaving vaccine,” explains Berkley.
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