UNICEF and WHO warn of ‘perfect storm’ of conditions for measles outbreaks, affecting children

Reported worldwide measles cases increased by 79 per cent in the first two months of 2022, compared to the same period in 2021, as WHO and UNICEF warn conditions ripe for serious outbreaks of vaccine-preventable illnesses

An 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 could trigger larger outbreaks, particularly of measles affecting millions of children in 2022, warn WHO and UNICEF.

Pandemic-related disruptions, increasing inequalities in access to vaccines, and the diversion of resources from routine immunization are leaving too many children without protection against measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases.

The risk for large outbreaks has increased as communities relax social distancing practices and other preventive measures for COVID-19 implemented during the height of the pandemic. In addition, with millions of people being displaced due to conflicts and crises including in Ukraine, Ethiopia, Somalia and Afghanistan, disruptions in routine immunization and COVID-19 vaccination services, lack of clean water and sanitation, and overcrowding increase the risk of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks.

Almost 17,338 measles cases were reported worldwide in January and February 2022, compared to 9,665 during the first two months of 2021. 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.

“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,” said Catherine Russell, UNICEF Executive Director. “It is 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.”  

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.

Top 5 countries with reported measles cases in the last 12 months, until April 2022 1
CountryReported Measles casesRate per million casesFirst dose measles coverage (%), 20192First dose measles coverage (%), 20203

As of April 2022, the agencies report 21 large and disruptive measles outbreaks around the world in the last 12 months. Utmost of the measles cases were reported in Africa and the East Mediterranean region. The numbers are probably advanced as the epidemic has disintegrated surveillance systems encyclopedically, with implicit underreporting.

Countries with the largest measles outbreaks since the once time include Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Ethiopia. Inadequate measles vaccine content is the major reason for outbreaks, wherever they do.

“ The COVID-19 epidemic has intruded immunization services, health systems have been overwhelmed, and we’re now seeing a rejuvenescence of deadly conditions including measles. For numerous other conditions, the impact of these dislocations to immunization services will be felt for decades to come,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization. “ Now is the moment to get essential immunization back on track and launch catch-up juggernauts so that everybody can have access to these life- saving vaccines.”

Coverage at or above 95 per cent with two boluses of the safe and effective measles vaccine can cover children against measles. Still, COVID-19 epidemic related dislocations have delayed the preface of the alternate cure of the measles vaccine in numerous countries.

As countries work to respond to outbreaks of measles and other vaccine-preventable conditions, and recover lost ground, UNICEF and WHO, along with mates similar as Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the mates of the Measles & Rubella Initiative ( M&RI), Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and others are supporting sweats to strengthen immunization systems by

Restoring services and vaccination juggernauts so countries can safely deliver routine immunization programmes to fill the gaps left by the backsliding;
Helping health workers and community leaders communicate laboriously with caregivers to explain the significance of vaccinations;
Amending gaps in immunization content, including relating communities and people who have been missed during the epidemic;
Icing that COVID-19 vaccine delivery is singly financed and well- integrated into overall planning for immunization services so that it isn’t carried out at the cost of nonage and other vaccination services;
Enforcing country plans to help and respond to outbreaks of vaccine-preventable conditions and strengthening immunization systems as part of COVID-19 recovery sweats.
UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most underprivileged children. Across 190 countries and homes, we work for every child, everyplace, to make a better world for everyone. For further information about UNICEF and its work for children, visitwww.unicef.org.

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About WHO

The World Health Organization provides global leadership in public health within the United Nations system. Innovated in 1948, WHO works with 194 Member States across six regions, to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable. Our thing for 2019-2023 is to insure that a billion further people have universal health content, to cover a billion further people from health extremities, and give a farther billion people with better health and well- being.

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