Measles has already infected nearly 10 million people worldwide and killed 1,40,000, most of whom are children. Citing these numbers on Thursday, December 5, the World Health Organisation (WHO) called it the world's 'collective failure' against the vaccine-preventable infection.
In figures described by its Director-General as 'an outrage', the WHO explained that most of last year's measles deaths were in five-year-old children or younger who had not been vaccinated.
The global organisation also added that more than 34,000 people across Europe caught measles in the first two months of 2019. Ukraine, Romania, and Albania are suffering a measles epidemic while the United States has already reported its record highest number of measles cases in 25 years.
Four European countries — Albania, Czech Republic, Greece, and Britain — who were earlier 'measles-free' lost their status last year after suffering from large outbreaks.
In 2018, measles hit the hardest conflict-ridden nations of Liberia, Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, and Somalia. These five nations accounted for nearly half of all cases worldwide as reported by the WHO.
Globally, measles vaccination rates have stagnated for almost a decade. Babies and infants are said to be at greatest risk of infection and can further develop complications, including pneumonia and cerebral edema that can lead to permanent damage like blindness or loss of hearing.
The WHO and UNICEF estimated that 86% of children globally received the first dose of measles vaccine in 2018, but fewer than 70% received the second recommended dose.
That is far short of the recommended 95% vaccination coverage, with two doses of vaccine deemed necessary to protect populations against the disease. The WHO has warned that the outbreaks may continue and it has urged authorities to ensure vulnerable people get vaccinated in due time. The WHO report with provisional data up to November this year showed a three-fold increase compared to the same period in 2018.