According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) measles cases worldwide increased to 869 770 in 2019, the highest number reported since 1996 with increases in all WHO regions. Global measles deaths climbed nearly 50 percent since 2016, claiming an estimated 207 500 lives in 2019 alone.
The number of measles cases increased 556% from 132,490 in 2016 to 869,770 in 2019, the most reported cases since 1996, since 2016, the number of reported measles cases increased 19,739% in the Region of the Americas.
“We know how to prevent measles outbreaks and deaths,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “These data send a clear message that we are failing to protect children from measles in every region of the world. We must collectively work to support countries and engage communities to reach everyone, everywhere with measles vaccine and stop this deadly virus.”
COVID-19 Pandemic Must Not Exacerbate the Measles Cases Increase
Measles outbreaks occur when people who are not protected from the virus are infected and spread the disease to unvaccinated or under-vaccinated populations. To control measles and prevent outbreaks and deaths, vaccination coverage rates with the required MCV1 and MCV2 must reach 95 percent and be maintained at national and subnational levels. Efforts to control COVID-19 have resulted in disruptions in vaccination and crippled efforts to prevent and minimize measles outbreaks. As of November, more than 94 million people were at risk of missing vaccines due to paused measles campaigns in 26 countries.
“Before there was a coronavirus crisis, the world was grappling with a measles crisis, and it has not gone away,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “While health systems are strained by the COVID-19 pandemic, we must not allow our fight against one deadly disease to come at the expense of our fight against another. This means ensuring, we have the resources to continue immunization campaigns for all vaccine-preventable diseases, even as we address the growing COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Measles & Rubella Initiative
The Measles & Rubella Initiative (M&RI), which includes American Red Cross, the United Nations Foundation, the U.S. CDC, UNICEF and WHO, and global immunization partners like Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others, are working to address the current measles crisis and ensure that resources are positioned to address immunization delays – for measles and all vaccines – in every region of the world. During 2000–2019, compared with no measles vaccination, measles vaccination prevented an estimated 25.5 million deaths globally.
“Measles virus easily finds unprotected children, adolescents and adults because it is so contagious,” said Dr. Robert Linkins, Measles & Rubella Initiative Management Team Chair and Accelerated Disease Control Branch Chief at U.S. CDC.
“Infections are not only a sign of poor measles vaccination coverage, but also a known marker, or ‘tracer,’ that vital health services may not be reaching populations most at-risk. Our collective efforts to reach children with vaccines now, ahead of the possible easing of COVID-19 travel restrictions and increased population movement, will save lives.”