LONDON – The number of children who fell ill with measles in 2019 was the highest in 23 years, according to new data released Thursday by the World Health Organization and the United States.
The WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted in the study that there were about 870,000 cases of measles last year, and that the number of deaths – about 207,500 – increased by almost 50% since 2016. Authorities attributed the record number of infections to a significant decline in vaccination; minors must receive two applications of the measles vaccine to avoid contracting this highly contagious disease.
“These data send a clear message that we are not protecting children from measles in all regions of the world,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.
To prevent measles outbreaks, the WHO estimates that around 95% of the population must be inoculated. Vaccination coverage with two applications has stagnated between 70 and 85% globally.
The WHO and CDC warned that global measures to curb the coronavirus pandemic have also complicated measles vaccination campaigns, allowing the disease to spread. The agencies indicated that, as of this month, more than 94 million people in 26 countries are at risk of not being vaccinated due to interruptions in vaccination campaigns, and many of those nations are currently experiencing epidemics.
Of the countries with vaccination services behind schedule this year, only eight have resumed their campaigns: Brazil, the Central African Republic, Congo, Ethiopia, Nepal, Nigeria, the Philippines and Somalia.
Measles mainly affects children under 5 years of age and can be fatal in cases of malnutrition or with vulnerable immune systems. Despite the fact that more than 95% of measles deaths occur in developing countries, the disease causes frequent outbreaks throughout Europe each year.