Measles cases have risen by nearly 80% worldwide this year, the UN said on Wednesday, warning that the rise in ‘canary in a coal mine’ disease indicates outbreaks of other diseases are on the way. probable.
The coronavirus pandemic has halted vaccination campaigns against diseases other than Covid around the world, creating a “perfect storm” that could put the lives of millions of children at risk, the UN health agency has said. childhood UNICEF and the World Health Organization in a press release.
More than 17,300 measles cases were reported worldwide in January and February, up from around 9,600 in those months last year, according to new data from United Nations agencies.
There were 21 large and disruptive measles outbreaks in the past 12 months to April, most in Africa and the eastern Mediterranean, the data showed.
Christopher Gregory, senior health adviser in UNICEF’s immunization section, told AFP that since measles is the “most contagious vaccine-preventable disease”, it often serves as a wake-up call.
“Measles is what we call the tracer, or the canary in the coal mine, that really shows us where these weaknesses in the immunization system are,” he said.
He said yellow fever was among the diseases that could rise next, after increasing cases were reported in West Africa.
“We are particularly worried about the most fragile countries, where the health systems are already very much in trouble, where they are still trying to cope with the impacts of Covid on top of these epidemics,” he said.
Somalia has recorded by far the highest number of measles cases in the past 12 months with more than 9,000, according to UN data, followed by Yemen, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Ethiopia – all countries struggling with some form of conflict.
There are also fears that the war in Ukraine could trigger a resurgence in the country after recording the highest measles rate in Europe between 2017 and 2019.
Gregory said it had been very difficult to track illness in Ukraine since the start of the war, adding that the biggest concern was “what we might miss”.
Impact “felt for decades”More than 23 million children missed routine vaccinations in 2020 as the Covid pandemic waned, the highest number in more than a decade.
UN agencies said 57 vaccination campaigns in 43 countries postponed at the start of the pandemic had still not been completed, reaching 203 million people – mostly children.
Covid also continues to put pressure on healthcare facilities and draw staff and attention away from vaccination for long-standing killer diseases.
“The impact of these interruptions to immunization services will be felt for decades,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in the statement.
“Now is the time to get essential vaccination back on track and launch catch-up campaigns so that everyone can have access to these life-saving vaccines.”
Gregory said it was time to put childhood vaccination “at least on the same level of priority as ending Covid vaccination”.
Measles is a disease caused by a virus that mainly attacks children. The most serious complications include blindness, brain swelling, diarrhea and serious respiratory infections.
A vaccination rate of at least 95% is the best way to prevent its spread, although many countries are far from reaching this target – Somalia is only at 46%, according to data from the UN.