‘A global measles crisis’ is well underway, UN agency chiefs warn

Noting a 300 per cent surge in the number of measles cases during the first three months of this year, compared to the same period last year, two UN agency heads declared on Monday that we now stand in the middle of a global measles crisisrdquo;

Cases have soared across the world, including in places where measles had previously been eliminated, like the United Statesrdquo;, asserted Henrietta Fore, Executive Directorof the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Measles is almost entirely preventable through two doses of a safe and effective vaccine, despite being highly contagious. The UN agency chiefs painted an alarming picturerdquo; of the rate of infection, saying that by the time you finish reading this, we estimate thatat least 40 people� most of them children � will be infected by this fast-moving, life-threatening diseaserdquo;.

A clear and dangerous trend

Following two years of consecutive increases, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Myanmar, Philippines, Sudan, Thailand and Ukraine, are all in the midst of current outbreaks. It is also spreading fast among clusters of people, who are resisting vaccination, in countries with high overall vaccination rates, including the United States, Israel, Thailand and Tunisia.

We#39;re worried not only because measles can be so severe, it still causesover 100,000 deathsevery year, but also because it is extremely contagiousrdquo; said the agency chiefs.

Referring to measles as the canary in the coalmine of vaccine preventable illnessesrdquo;, the UNICEF and WHO heads explained that around the world, millions of childrenare still missing outon lifesaving vaccines, leaving them and their communities vulnerable to disease and deadly outbreaksrdquo;.

Living in countries where healthcare systems are challenged by poverty and conflict, many lack access to effective vaccines. But in several high- and middle-income countries, the UN agency heads lamented, there are parents who are delaying or refusing to vaccinate their children because they#39;re unsure of the need for vaccines or that vaccines are saferdquo;.

Moreover, the UN agencies revealed that uncertainty is often fueled by confusing, contradictory online information, which spreads fast, with harmful content transmitted on digital channels; amplified by algorithms that reward controversy and clicks; and exploited by anti-vaccine activists to sow

A young boy is administered measles and rubella vaccine at a health post in Gorkha District, Nepal., by UNICEF/Kiran Panday

Additionally, scientists and health advocates have even been harassed for sharing information, according to the agencies, while unproven so-called vaccine alternatives are being marketed for profit.

'Collective' response needed

It is a collective responsibility to support parents and build a more positive environment for vaccination, on and offlinerdquo;, the UNICEF and WHO chiefs said.

Both agencies welcomed initial stepstaken by digital companies, including Facebook and Amazon, to quarantine myths over vaccination safety, but say it will take much morehellip;to make sure all children get their vaccines at the right timerdquo;.

To reverse the trend, they flagged that everyone must advocate for vaccines, including by promoting scientific literacy on health and vaccines.

It means governments must invest in primary care and immunization, and make sure these services are affordable, accessible and truly responsive to parents#39; needs, especially those in the poorest, most disadvantaged communitiesrdquo; the two stressed.

For their part,WHOandUNICEF, are working with other partners, such as the Vaccine Alliance, a public-private partnership known asGavi,to ensure that vaccines reach more people in more countries than ever before.

It will take long-term efforts, political commitment and continuous investment, in vaccine access, in service quality and in trust, to ensure we are, and remain, protected togetherrdquo;, said the agency heads.

Source: United Nations (UN).