Measles cases and deaths soaring globally as COVID-19 curbs disrupt vaccinations
Updated 11:57, 13-Nov-2020
The World Health Organization reports measles cases and deaths have soared worldwide since 2016. /AFP

The World Health Organization reports measles cases and deaths have soared worldwide since 2016. /AFP

Measles surged to infect almost 870,000 people across the world in 2019, the worst figures in 23 years, according to new data published by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday.

Meanwhile, more than 207,000 people died last year – a 50 percent increase from 2016 levels, the report shows.

Measles is one of the most contagious known diseases – more so than COVID-19, Ebola, tuberculosis or flu.

The report says the failure to inoculate children on time with two doses of measles vaccines is the main driver for increased cases and deaths. It says vaccination coverage remains well below the 95 percent needed to control the disease and prevent outbreaks and deaths.

Added to this mix is the COVID-19 pandemic. Although reported cases of measles are lower this year than last, WHO says efforts to control the coronavirus outbreak have resulted in disruptions in measles vaccination.  

WHO's senior technical advisor for measles and rubella, Natasha Crowcroft, told VOA that different strategies are needed to prevent new measles outbreaks in the time of COVID-19, the disease brought on by the coronavirus. 

"The number one action we need to take is to prevent outbreaks from happening in countries where we have got the highest risks… and there are several where there is not the ability to be able to put the health system in place to be able to rely on," she said.

Countries where routine immunization for children is happening will recover quickly from delays or suspended coverage during this difficult period, Crowcroft said. However, weak countries will continue to be at risk of deadly outbreaks unless swift action is taken to close this widening gap, she added.

The WHO reported that more than 94 million people are at risk of missing vaccines because nationwide campaigns have been put on pause in 26 countries. This led to huge outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Madagascar.  

Eight of those countries have now resumed their campaigns – Brazil, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nepal, Nigeria, the Philippines and Somalia. 

(With input from agencies)