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Global measles cases up 300 percent year-on-year

China Daily | Updated: 2019-04-17 09:12
Mothers wait to have their babies vaccinated against measles at a healthcare center in Larintsena, Madagascar. LAETITIA BEZAIN/AP

GENEVA - Measles cases rose 300 percent worldwide through the first three months of 2019 compared to the same period last year, the United Nations said on Monday, as concern grows over the impact of anti-vaccination stigma.

Measles, which is highly contagious, can be entirely prevented through a two-dose vaccine, but the World Health Organization, or WHO, has in recent months sounded the alarm over slipping vaccination rates.

"Preliminary global data shows that reported cases rose by 300 percent in the first three months of 2019, compared to the same period in 2018. This follows consecutive increases over the past two years," it said in a statement.

"While this data is provisional and not yet complete, it indicates a clear trend. Many countries are in the midst of sizable measles outbreaks, with all regions of the world experiencing sustained rises in cases," it added.

The agency noted that only about one in 10 actual measles cases are reported, meaning the early trends for 2019 likely underestimate the severity of the outbreaks.

So far this year, 170 countries have reported 112,163 measles cases to WHO. At this time last year, 163 countries had reported 28,124 cases.

Measles had been officially eliminated in many countries with advanced healthcare systems.

But the so-called anti-vax movement - driven by fraudulent claims linking the MMR vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella, and a risk of autism in children - has gained traction. Repeated studies have shown that there is no such link.

But according to WHO, global coverage for the first vaccine dose has been "stalled" at 85 percent, while 67 percent of people have received the second dose.

The provisional 2019 data shows that cases have spiked "in countries with high overall vaccination coverage, including the United States", WHO warned.

The most dramatic rise in cases through the early part of the year was reported in Africa, which has weaker vaccination coverage than other regions. Africa saw a 700-percent increase compared to last year.

At least 800 children have died from measles since September in Madagascar, where rampant malnutrition and a historically poor vaccine rate are driving the world's worse current outbreak.

Agence France-Presse

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