By Emmanuel Okiri

A report released jointly by the World Health Organization (WHO) and US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicates that there has been an increased death toll from Measles in the last year.

Measles killed an estimated 207,500 people in 2019. This comes after a decade-long failure to reach optimal vaccination coverage, resulting in the highest number of cases for 23 years.

The death toll in 2019 was significantly higher by 50% than the historic low figures of 2016, WHO regions saw a surge taking the global total to 869,770 cases.

This year there has been relatively fewer cases, though the COVID 19 pandemic has delayed progress of vaccination efforts, with more than 94 million at risk of losing out on measles vaccine in 26 countries. Vaccination Campaigns have been stopped in several countries including those with ongoing outbreaks.

“Before there was a coronavirus the world was grappling with a measles crisis, and it has not gone away”, Henrietta Fore, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director, said in a statement.

“While health systems are strained by the COVID-19 pandemic, we must not allow our fight against one deadly disease to come at the expense of our fight against another.”

Measles is entirely preventable, but success requires 95% of children to be vaccinated on time with two doses of measles-containing vaccines (MCV1 and MCV2). MCV1 coverage has been stagnant globally for more than a decade at between 84% and 85%, while MCV2 coverage has been steadily increasing but is still only at 71%.

According to UNICEF and WHO, immunization rates in some countries have fallen by as much as 50 per cent, with people unable to access health services because of lockdown and transport disruptions, or unwillingness due to fear of contracting COVID-19.

Natasha Crowcroft, senior technical advisor on measles and rubella at the WHO, said that the good news was that measles vaccinations had saved more than 25.5 million lives globally since 2000. But the low vaccine coverage meant the number of unprotected children was growing every year.

Weak health systems and the inability to reach children were the main problem globally, and vaccine hesitancy was an additional problem in some countries, she said.

Last week UNICEF and WHO issued a joint call to action to avert major measles and polio epidemics, calling for an additional $255 million over the next three years to address dangerous measles immunity gaps in the 45 countries at the highest risk of an imminent outbreak.

Countries that have recently suffered large measles outbreaks include the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Madagascar, Central African Republic (CAR), Georgia, Kazakhstan, North Macedonia, Samoa, Tonga, and Ukraine, Dr. Crowcroft said.