Outbreaks of measles worldwide increased by 79 percent in January and February this year compared to the same period in 2021.
The alarm was made on Wednesday by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
UN agencies stress that this is a “worrying sign of an increased risk of vaccine-preventable diseases” and “the possibility of an outbreak of epidemics, especially as millions of children became infected with measles in 2022”.
The WHO and Unicef note that the covid-19 pandemic is linked to this situation as inequality in access to routine vaccination has increased. Many children were left without protection against measles and other diseases, while vaccination is avoided in developed countries.
To date, 21 major measles epidemics worldwide have been registered by UN agencies. Most in Africa and the eastern Mediterranean. The five countries with the highest incidence are Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Ethiopia.
WHO and Unicef say the real numbers could be much higher because the pandemic has also disrupted global surveillance and control systems. More than 17,000 cases of measles were reported worldwide in January-February, compared with 9,600 last year.
Measles is highly contagious, so cases increase rapidly as the vaccination rate decreases. Agencies point out that the disease can be fatal, weaken the immune system and leave patients more susceptible to other diseases, such as pneumonia and diarrhea, even months after infection. In 2020 alone, 23 million children did not receive primary vaccines, the highest number since 2009.