World faces ‘perfect storm’ for measles outbreak affecting children, WHO warns

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Photo used for illustrative purposes.

A spike in the number of measles cases around the world has sparked concerns over the potential for serious outbreaks this year.

Almost 17,338 measles cases were reported worldwide in January and February 2022, compared to 9,665 during the first two months of last year – which represents a rise of 79 per cent.

Unicef and the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that there is a “perfect storm” for serious outbreaks of the vaccine-preventable illnesses such as measles.

As of this month, the agencies report 21 large and disruptive measles outbreaks around the world in the last 12 months.

The five countries with the largest measles outbreaks since the past year include Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Ethiopia.

The coronavirus pandemic has seen much of health funding and resources diverted to deal with the spread of the virus since 2020.

In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, 23 million children missed out on basic childhood vaccines through routine health services, the highest number since 2009 and 3.7 million more than in 2019.


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These pandemic-realted disruptions – as well as increasing inequalities in access to vaccines – has left many children without protection against contagious diseases while Covid restrictions are eased in most countries, the two organisations said.

The risk of serious outbreaks is also heightened by the displacement of millions of refugees – from Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Ukraine – as well as lack of clean water and sanitation, and overcrowding in many parts of the world.

As measles is very contagious, experts said cases tend to show up quickly when vaccination levels decline.

“Measles is more than a dangerous and potentially deadly disease. It is also an early indication that there are gaps in our global immunisation coverage, gaps vulnerable children cannot afford,” said Catherine Russell, Unicef executive director.

“It is encouraging that people in many communities are beginning to feel protected enough from Covid-19 to return to more social activities. But doing so in places where children are not receiving routine vaccination creates the perfect storm for the spread of a disease like measles.”

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, called on governments and NGOs around the world to launch “catch-up campaigns” to allow children to get their vaccinations.

As of the start of this month, 57 vaccine-preventable disease campaigns in 43 countries that were scheduled to take place since the start of the pandemic are still postponed. This is impacting 203 million people, most of whom are children.

Of these, 19 are measles campaigns, which put 73 million children at risk of measles due to missed vaccinations.

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