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Updated January 25th, 2024 at 14:38 IST

WHO Issues Warning as Measles Cases in Europe Soar Over 30-Fold

The World Health Organization has issued a critical alert concerning measles following a "disturbing" 30-fold increase in cases throughout Europe.

Reported by: Manasvi Asthana
UN agency calls for ‘urgent vaccination efforts’ in region to prevent further spread of disease
UN agency calls for ‘urgent vaccination efforts’ in region to prevent further spread of disease | Image:Representative image
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The World Health Organization has issued a critical alert concerning measles following a "disturbing" 30-fold increase in cases throughout Europe. The UN agency noted a significant surge in the number of individuals affected by the disease highlighting its rapid acceleration in recent months. Between January and October of the previous year, over 30,000 cases were reported marking a stark contrast to the 941 cases recorded for the entire year of 2022.

Children between the ages of one and four accounted for 40% of the cases, while 20% of the reported cases were in individuals aged 20 and above. The WHO warns that this trend is likely to deteriorate unless parents ensure their children are vaccinated against the disease.

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The alert was issued shortly after the UK declared a national incident in response to a spike in cases. The country also initiated a campaign urging parents to ensure their children receive the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

“We have seen in the region not only a 30-fold increase in measles cases, but also nearly 21,000 hospitalisations and five measles-related deaths (reported in two countries), said Dr Hans Kluge, the WHO regional director for Europe.

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“Vaccination is the only way to protect children from this potentially dangerous disease. Urgent vaccination efforts are needed to halt transmission and prevent further spread,” he added.

Measles poses significant risks, including the potential for severe complications, lifelong disability, and death. The disease can impact vital organs such as the lungs and brain, leading to conditions like pneumonia, meningitis, blindness, and seizures.

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“It is vital that all countries are prepared to rapidly detect and timely respond to measles outbreaks, which could endanger progress towards measles elimination,” Kluge added.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified decreasing vaccination rates as a primary factor contributing to the surge in measles cases. Additionally, the rise in international travel post-Covid-19 has heightened the risk of cross-border transmission and local spread.

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The WHO's European region, encompassing 53 countries, including Russia and parts of central Asia, reported 40 countries registering measles cases in 2023. Russia and Kazakhstan recorded the highest numbers, each reporting 10,000 cases. In western Europe, Britain had the highest count with 183 cases. 

Vaccination rates for the first dose of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine slipped from 96% in 2019 to 93% in 2022 across Europe. The uptake of the second dose also saw a decrease from 92% to 91% during the same period. Between 2020 and 2022, approximately 1.8 million infants in the WHO Europe region were not vaccinated against measles.

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Worldwide, vaccination rates against measles have been declining. In 2022, 83% of children received their first measles vaccine during their first year of life, a slight increase from 81% in 2021 but a decrease from 86% before the pandemic. In 2021, an estimated 128,000 measles deaths occurred globally, predominantly among under-vaccinated or unvaccinated children under five.

The head of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) recently cautioned that the UK was on a troubling trajectory for an escalation in measles cases. Prof Dame Jenny Harries emphasised the need for concerted action to address the virus. She noted that while most people were not opposed to their children receiving the MMR jab, they required more information to feel confident about their decision.

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“What we are seeing at the moment with measles is that people have forgotten what a serious illness it is … We have had very high vaccination rates, especially for young families, but they are low at the moment,” she added.

 



 

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Published January 25th, 2024 at 14:38 IST

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