A report published by the WHO and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states the number of measles cases in 2016 was 132,490 globally – which marked a drop from 853,479 in the year 2000. However, between 2016 and 2020, cases shot up to 869,770 – the most reported cases since 1996 and a rise of around 556 percent.
The CDC report on progress toward regional measles elimination was based on the number of incident measles cases submitted to health organisations like WHO and UNICEF annually by countries around the world.
The sharp rise in cases is despite the fact 193 countries around the world have access to laboratory testing through the WHO’s Global Measles and Rubella Laboratory Network.
Now, an expert has warned the global community should be “extremely concerned” about the jump in cases.
Dr Natasha Crowcroft, lead author of the measles report and the WHO’s senior technical advisor on measles and rubella, described the surge in cases as a “collective failure”.
She told Express.co.uk: “We should be extremely concerned about this surge in measles cases and related deaths.
“That anyone should die from measles – against which a safe, effective and affordable vaccine has existed for over 50 years – is a collective failure which must be addressed. We need to strengthen health systems and immunization programmes to protect children better.”
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The measles expert said progress towards eradication of the disease has “stalled globally”, with vaccination coverage having remained around 85 percent for several years.
She added coverage needs to be “at least 95 percent” in order to keep the disease at bay, and that outbreaks are caused as the number of children missing out on a jab accumulates over time.
Moreover, Dr Crowcroft warned global efforts such as immunisation programmes are being hindered by the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak.
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For one thing, public health and lab resources have been diverted away from their usual detection activities.
This may have the effect of distorting the true number of measles cases. Indeed, Dr Crowcroft says measles reports in 2020 are down from 2019.
However, she warned: “This is more ominous than reassuring.
“We are just storing up trouble for future years unless we take action soon, by ensuring the lifesaving benefits of vaccines reach everyone, everywhere.
Startlingly, disease outbreaks can explode suddenly even when a country may not see a drastic change for years at a time.
Dr Crowcroft said: “What we see on the ground is that a country may not see anything for a couple of years, and then suddenly an outbreak explodes, affecting all the age groups that missed out on vaccination.
“Mathematically speaking, infectious diseases follow exponential, not linear processes. As human beings we tend to be more comfortable thinking linearly, so infectious diseases can take us by surprise because they don’t behave that way.”
She remains optimistic that antivaccination movements are still “very much a minority”, but warned governments, media outlets and educators need to continue to “tackle misinformation” on the matter.
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