WHO and UNICEF, in a release, have alerted of a serious outbreak of measles, a vaccine-preventable illness mostly affecting Nigeria and 4 other countries, an increase of 79 per cent in the first two months of 2022, compared to the same period in 2021.
Other countries with the largest reported measles cases in the last 12 months until April 2022 include Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan and Ethiopia. Almost 17,338 measles cases were reported worldwide in January and February 2022, compared to 9,665 during the first two months of 2021.
The agencies declared that the increase in measles cases in January and February 2022 is a worrying sign of a heightened risk for the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases and that this could trigger larger outbreaks, particularly of measles affecting millions of children in 2022.
According to the release, the 19 measles campaigns that were supposed to take place in 43 countries as of 1 April 2022, which were postponed, had put 73 million children at risk of measles due to missed vaccinations.
It stated that as of 1 April 2022, 57 vaccine-preventable disease campaigns in 43 countries that were scheduled to take place since the start of the pandemic are still postponed, impacting 203 million people, most of whom are children.
UNICEF Executive Director, Catherine Russell, stated “Measles is more than a dangerous and potentially deadly disease. It is also an early indication that there are gaps in our global immunization coverage, gaps vulnerable children cannot afford.
“It encouraging that people in many communities are beginning to feel protected enough from COVID-19 to return to more social activities. But doing so in places where children are not receiving routine vaccination creates the perfect storm for the spread of a disease like measles.”
Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared “The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted immunization services, health systems have been overwhelmed, and we are now seeing a resurgence of deadly diseases including measles.
“For many other diseases, the impact of these disruptions to immunization services will be felt for decades to come. Now is the moment to get essential immunization back on track and launch catch-up campaigns so that everybody can have access to these life-saving vaccines.”
As measles is very contagious, cases tend to show up quickly when vaccination levels decline. The agencies are concerned that outbreaks of measles could also forewarn outbreaks of other diseases that do not spread as rapidly.
Apart from its direct effect on the body, which can be lethal, the measles virus also weakens the immune system and makes a child more vulnerable to other infectious diseases like pneumonia and diarrhoea, including for months after the measles infection itself among those who survive.
Most cases occur in settings that have faced social and economic hardships due to COVID-19, conflict, or other crises, and have chronically weak health system infrastructure and insecurity.
Coverage at or above 95 per cent with two doses of the safe and effective measles vaccine can protect children against measles.
In 2020, 23 million children missed out on basic childhood vaccines through routine health services, the highest number since 2009 and 3.7 million more than in 2019.