On 9 February 2019 in Yemen, Sarah Abdullah,10, is vaccinated in Aden during a Measles and Rubella vaccination campaign.

These are the Most Alarming Measles Outbreaks Worldwide

Measles outbreaks around the world are surging after years-long declines.

According to data released by UNICEF today, 98 countries are reporting more measles cases in 2018, compared to 2017. To make matters worse, this includes the re-introduction of measles in countries where there were zero cases in the prior year.

Measles Deaths Around the World
Credit: UNICEF

Facts and Figures About Measles Outbreaks Around the World

The surge in measles cases is propelled by outbreaks in ten countries. The outbreaks in these ten countries account for 74% of the increase, according to UNICEF, which adds: “Ukraine, the Philippines and Brazil saw the largest increases in measles cases from 2017 to 2018. In Ukraine alone, there were 35,120 cases of measles in 2018. According to the government, another 24,042 people were infected just in the first two months of 2019. In the Philippines so far this year, there have been 12,736 measles cases and 203 deaths compared to 15,599 cases in the whole of 2018.”

Measles is also returning to countries that reported no cases in the prior year. Conflict, civil strife and poor health systems are partly responsible for this surge in cases. But so too are parents who refuse to get their children vaccinated, falsely believing that vaccines are harmful to their children.  Here in the United States, the number of measles cases increased six-fold between 2017 and 2018, reaching 791 cases, says UNICEF.

This is stark reminder that measles is a stubborn virus that will continue to sicken and kill people unless vaccination levels are appropriately high.

Measles is one the most contagious diseases on the planet.

It spreads easily through the air and attacks respiratory tracts. The virus can be contracted by someone up to two hours after an infected person has left a room, says UNICEF.  Measles is deadly, too. The World Health Organization reported approximately 110, 000 people  died from measles in 2017, the last year for which this data is available. The vast majority of these deaths were children under the age of five years old.

These deaths and new outbreaks come despite a vaccine that is safe. This vaccine is also nearly universally available in countries that are experiencing sharp increases in measles outbreaks.

It spreads through air and infects the respiratory tract, potentially killing malnourished children or babies too young to be vaccinated. Once infected, there is no specific treatment for measles, so vaccination is a life-saving tool for children.

Vaccines have benefits beyond keeping children alive.

New research on vaccines shows that in addition to keeping children healthy, vaccines also prevent families from slipping into poverty. A study last year published in Health Affairs demonstrated that vaccination coverage prevents families in the developing world from slipping down the income latter by averting what is known as “medical impoverishment.” Earlier this year, the lead author of that study, Dr. Angela Chang, came on the Global Dispatches podcast to discuss how vaccines can be a tool in the fight against extreme poverty in the developing world.


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