The World Health Organization reports measles cases and deaths have soared around the globe since 2016. It reports an increase in cases to nearly 870,000 last year, while more than 207,000 people died—a 50 percent increase from 2016 levels.
The U.N. agency 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 coronavirus 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 vaccination.
WHO’s senior technical advisor for measles and rubella, Natasha Crowcroft, tells VOA 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.
Crowcroft says countries where routine immunization for children was happening will recover quickly from delays or suspended coverage during this difficult period. She says weak countries will continue to be at risk of deadly outbreaks unless swift action is taken to close this widening gap.
The WHO reports 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 the 26 countries now have resumed their campaigns. They include Brazil, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nepal, Nigeria, Philippines and Somalia.