An unpleasant comeback

As cases of measles surge worldwide, ‘decades of progress’ in jeopardy Reported cases of measles worldwide surged by nearly a third last year, partly because parents did not vaccinate their children, health organisations have said. The increase in measles, a highly contagious scourge that had been nearly eradicated in many parts of the world just a few years ago, was “deeply concerning”, the organisations have said in a report on the fight to eradicate measles. Official’s warning “Without urgent efforts to increase vaccination coverage and identify populations with unacceptable levels of under- or unimmunised children, we risk losing decades of progress,” says Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, Deputy Director General for programmes at the World Health Organisation (WHO), while announcing the findings. Measles outbreaks have affected nearly all regions, the report says, with the biggest surges in the Americas, the Eastern Mediterranean region and Europe. The findings reinforce similarly alarming results reported three months ago by the WHO for Europe, which showed that measles had reached the highest levels in two decades across the continent. Key factors At least 95% of a population must have immunity to control the spread of measles, public health officials say. But in several European countries, the figure is 85% or less. Health officials have put the blame for the immunity problem partly on parental neglect and the mistaken belief that vaccines can cause autism and other afflictions. The measles increase in Latin America is partly attributable to an economic calamity afflicting Venezuela, where many public health services have stopped or are mired in dysfunction. The number of officially reported measles cases in 2017 totalled 173,330, the report says, 31% higher than levels in 2016. Still, the number of reported cases last year remained far below the 853,479 reported in 2000. The disease can cause debilitating and sometimes fatal complications, severe diarrhoea, dehydration, pneumonia and vision loss. Babies and young children with weakened immune systems are particularly susceptible. An estimated 110,000 people, mainly children, died from measles last year, the report says. The report, “Progress Toward Regional Measles Elimination — Worldwide, 2000-2017”, is a joint publication of the WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States. Dr. Seth Berkley, chief executive officer of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, an advocacy group that promotes vaccination in lower-income countries, says the surge in reported cases shows that more efforts are needed to strengthen immunisation coverage. “Complacency about the disease and the spread of falsehoods about the vaccine in Europe, a collapsing health system in Venezuela and pockets of fragility and low immunisation coverage in Africa are combining to bring about a global resurgence of measles after years of progress,” he says.NY TIMES

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