Measles cases decreased in 2020 around the world, but efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic have disrupted vaccination and prevention campaigns, the WHO and US health authorities warned on Thursday.
“In November, more than 94 million people were at risk of not being vaccinated as planned due to the interruption of measles control campaigns in 26 countries,” note the World Health Organization and Federal Control Centers and Disease Prevention (CDC) of the United States.
“Many of these countries are currently experiencing disease outbreaks. Among the countries that postponed the campaigns planned for 2020, only eight (Brazil, Ethiopia, Nepal, Nigeria, Philippines, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia) have resumed their campaign after an initial delay ”, further notes this document.
“Before there was a coronavirus crisis, the world was in the grip of a measles crisis, which has not gone away,” said Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF.
In fact, measles killed 207,500 people worldwide last year, a figure up 50% from 2016.
Measles had progressed in all regions, with major epidemics reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, Ukraine, and the Samoa Islands and Brazil.
In total, nearly 870,000 cases of measles were reported in 2019, the highest figure on record since 2016.
For WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “these data clearly show that we are failing to protect children against measles in all regions of the world”.
And yet, he said in a statement, “we know how to prevent measles outbreaks and deaths.”
Measles, characterized by the rash of red spots on the skin, is caused by a virus that is spread very easily through direct contact or in the air.
Most of the deaths are due to complications of the disease. Among the most serious complications, the WHO cites blindness, encephalitis (which may be accompanied by brain edema), severe diarrhea, ear infections and serious respiratory infections such as pneumonia.
Before vaccination was introduced in 1963 and became widespread, major epidemics were recorded every 2/3 years that could cause around 2.6 million deaths per year, according to the WHO.
After a spectacular drop in cases between 2000 and 2016 thanks to major vaccination campaigns, measles has experienced a sharp resurgence in the world, due to insufficient vaccination linked in particular, in some countries and communities, to mistrust of vaccines.
This distrust of the combined measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine was prompted by a 1998 study that linked the vaccine and autism.
However, it was quickly established that its author had falsified his results, and several studies have since shown that the vaccine does not increase the risk of autism, the WHO has repeatedly stressed.
The proportion of the world population having received the first dose of the vaccine (out of two recommended) has now stagnated for ten years between 84% and 85%, and that of the second dose is 71%. To prevent epidemics, the goal is 95%.
The six countries with the highest number of infants who missed the first dose last year are Nigeria, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan, India and the Philippines.
“We must work collectively to support countries and engage communities to immunize everyone, everywhere, against measles and stop this deadly virus,” the WHO chief asked.