Measles Making a Comeback

On top of a food crisis and refugee crisis in the Horn of Africa, Unicef and the World Health Organization are reporting a very serious measles outbreak in Ethiopia and Kenya.

Marixie Mercado, a spokeswoman for UNICEF, said Friday that at least 17,584 people have contracted measles, and 114 have died in Ethiopia this year. A World Health Organization estimate says 2 million Ethiopian children are at risk for contracting the potentially deadly disease.

WHO spokesman Tarek Jasarevic also said at least 462 cases of measles, including 11 deaths, have been confirmed among Somali refugee children in the Kenyan refugee complex known as Dadaab.

This particular outbreak is part of what the humanitarian calls a “complex humanitarian crisis.” It is fueled by increasing refugee flows out of Somalia — refugee children are a particularly vulnerable group for mealses outbreaks because it is obviously harder to get vaccinated while in transit than if your family lives in an area covered by some sort of health system.

What is so maddening about this particular outbreak is that measles vaccines are cheap and easy to administer. But people forced to flee due to violence or drought are simply out of the reach of these health systems. Thus, when you have refugee flows like this you are bound to have negative health consequences. Because measles is so easy to spread, it has clearly taken hold in these vulnerable communities.

Beyond conflict zones and refugee camps in the Horn of Africa, though, measles is also experiencing a major resurgence in the developed world. According to the WHO, France had 4,937 reported cases of measles between January and March – compared with 5,090 cases during all of 2010. More than 6,500 cases have been reported in 33 countries in Europe. Measles is also making a comeback here in the USA.  Elsewhere, Auckland, New Zealand is currently experiencing its worst outbreak in a decade. In that case, a student contracted measles in the UK and infected 6 non-immunized students in a classroom of 30.

Why the UK? In 1998 a fully discredited study was published by a UK author purporting to show a link between the measles vaccine and autism. At one point, vaccination rates in the UK dropped to 50%. Across the developed world, fewer parents are getting their children vaccinated. The Voice of America had a good video on the harmful effects of this phenomenon.


Check out The Measles Initiative for more.