Global Spike in Measles a 'Serious Concern'

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Nov. 30, 2018 -- Measles cases surged in 2017, as many countries saw severe outbreaks due to gaps in vaccination coverage, according to new data from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the CDC. Since 2000, more than 21 million lives have been saved through measles immunizations, but cases reported since 2016 increased by more than 30% worldwide, the report says.

"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," Soumya Swaminathan, MD, the WHO's deputy director general for programs, says in a statement.

Elimination Milestones Not Achieved

Unless more is done to vaccinate more children, "We risk losing decades of progress in protecting children and communities against this devastating, but entirely preventable, disease," she says.

Measles is highly contagious but preventable with two doses of measles vaccine. But "measles elimination milestones have not been met," the report notes.

For several years, global coverage with the first dose of measles vaccine has stalled at 85% -- far short of the 95% needed to prevent outbreaks. The second dose coverage stands at just 67%, the report says.

Due to gaps in vaccination coverage, there were measles outbreaks in all regions of the world, killing an estimated 110,000 people in 2017. The Americas, the Eastern Mediterranean Region, and Europe had the greatest upsurges in cases last year.

"The increase in measles cases is deeply concerning, but not surprising," Seth Berkley, MD, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, says in the statement.

"Complacency about the disease and the spread of falsehoods about the vaccine in Europe, a collapsing health system in Venezuela, and pockets of fragility and low immunization coverage in Africa are combining to bring about a global resurgence of measles after years of progress," Berkley says. "Existing strategies need to change: more effort needs to go into increasing routine immunization coverage and strengthening health systems. Otherwise we will continue chasing one outbreak after another."

The WHO and the CDC say steady investment in immunization systems, coupled with efforts to strengthen routine vaccination services, are needed to reverse these trends. These efforts must focus especially on reaching the poorest, most marginalized communities, including people affected by conflict and displacement.

"Sustained investments are needed to strengthen immunization service delivery and to use every opportunity for delivering vaccines to those who need them," Robert Linkins, PhD, branch chief of accelerated disease control and vaccine preventable disease surveillance at the CDC, says in the statement.

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