Marko Geber

Marko Geber/Getty Images

While reported measles cases have fallen compared to previous years, progress toward measles elimination continues to decline and the risk of outbreaks is mounting, according to a new report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). During 2020, more than 22 million infants missed their first dose of measles vaccine — 3 million more than in 2019, marking the largest increase in two decades and creating dangerous conditions for outbreaks to occur.

Compared with the previous year, reported measles cases decreased by more than 80 per cent in 2020.

However, measles surveillance also deteriorated with the lowest number of specimens sent for laboratory testing in over a decade. Weak measles monitoring, testing and reporting for measles jeopardise countries’ ability to prevent outbreaks of this highly infectious disease. Major measles outbreaks occurred in 26 countries and accounted for 84 per cent of all reported cases in 2020.

“Large numbers of unvaccinated children, outbreaks of measles, and disease detection and diagnostics diverted to support Covid-19 responses are factors that increase the likelihood of measles-related deaths and serious complications in children,” said Kevin Cain, MD, CDC’s Global Immunisation Director.

“We must act now to strengthen disease surveillance systems and close immunity gaps, before travel and trade return to pre-pandemic levels, to prevent­­ deadly measles outbreaks and mitigate the risk of other vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Lower reported measles

cases in 2020 must not mask

the growing risk of measles to children worldwide

The ability of countries to ensure children receive both recommended doses of measles vaccine is a key indicator of global progress toward measles elimination and capacity to prevent the spread of the virus. First-dose coverage fell in 2020, and only 70 per cent of children received their second dose measles vaccine, well below the 95 per cent coverage needed to protect communities from the spread of the measles virus.

Adding to the worsening of immunity gaps worldwide, 24 measles vaccination campaigns in 23 countries, originally planned for 2020, were postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic — leaving more than 93 million people at risk for the disease. These supplemental campaigns are needed where people have missed out on measles-containing vaccines through routine immunisation programmes.

“While reported measles cases dropped in 2020, evidence suggests we are likely seeing the calm before the storm as the risk of outbreaks continues to grow around the world,” said Dr Kate O’Brien, Director of WHO’s Department of Immunisation, Vaccines and Biologicals. “It’s critical that countries vaccinate as quickly as possible against Covid-19, but this requires new resources so that it does not come at the cost of essential immunisation programmes. Routine immunisation must be protected and strengthened; otherwise, we risk trading one deadly disease for another.”

Immunisation and surveillance

systems must be strengthened to reduce growing measles risks

The Covid-19 pandemic caused significant disruptions to immunisation services and changes in health-seeking behaviors in many parts of the world. While the measures used to mitigate Covid-19 – masking, handwashing, distancing - also reduce the spread of the measles virus, countries and global health partners must prioritise finding and vaccinating children against measles to reduce the risk of explosive outbreaks and preventable deaths from this disease.

Measles is one of the world’s most contagious human viruses but is almost entirely preventable through vaccination.

In the last 20 years, the measles vaccine is estimated to have averted more than 30 million deaths globally. Estimated deaths from measles dropped from around 1,070,000 in 2000 to 60,700 in 2020.

The estimated number of measles cases in 2020 was 7.5 million globally. Measles transmission within communities is not only a clear indicator of poor measles vaccination coverage, but also a known marker, or ‘tracer,’ that vital health services are not reaching populations most at risk.

The Measles &

Rubella Initiative

The Measles & Rubella Initiative (M&RI) is a partnership among the American Red Cross, the United Nations Foundation, the US CDC, UNICEF and WHO. Working with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and other stakeholders, the Initiative is committed to achieving and maintaining a world without measles, rubella and congenital rubella syndrome.

Since 2000, M&RI has helped deliver measles vaccine to children worldwide and saved over 31.7 million lives globally by increasing vaccination coverage, responding to outbreaks, monitoring and evaluation, and supporting confidence and demand for vaccination.

By the end of 2020, 81 countries (42 per cent) had succeeded in sustaining their measles elimination status despite the pandemic, but no new countries were verified as having achieved measles elimination.

There are still 15 countries that have not introduced the measles second dose into their national immunisation schedules, leaving children and adolescents in these countries especially vulnerable to measles outbreaks.

“For over two decades, Red Cross volunteers have reached members of their communities in need of life-saving vaccines.

Volunteers provide critical health information to families through encouragement and a familiar face. This has helped shift minds and hearts to vaccinate millions of children within these communities,” says Koby Langley, Senior Vice President of the American Red Cross International Services and Service to the Armed Forces Department. “With the continuing global effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, this work is vital. Now more than ever, we need to reach children who are unprotected against deadly disease and prevent further outbreaks.”

“The pandemic is having a huge impact on countries’ ability to deliver essential health services such as routine immunisation, placing millions of people, mainly children, at risk of highly infectious diseases such as measles.

Our priority at Gavi is to help countries mitigate this risk and prevent disease outbreaks by closing the growing immunity gaps through strengthening routine immunisation, and conducting well-planned, targeted catch-up campaigns,” said Anuradha Gupta, Deputy CEO, Gavi the Vaccine Alliance. “We must urgently address the critical measles immunity gaps with a particular focus on reaching zero-dose children who are most at risk of devastating measles outbreaks.”

“Even before the pandemic, we were seeing how even small pockets of low measles immunisation coverage could fuel unprecedented outbreaks, including in countries where the disease had been considered eradicated.

And now, Covid-19 is creating widening gaps in coverage at a pace we haven’t seen in decades,” said Ephrem Tekle Lemango, UNICEF Associate Director for Immunisation. “While we have not seen an increase in cases yet, measles is simply too contagious. If we do not act, gaps will become outbreaks, and many children will be exposed to a preventable but potentially deadly disease,” he added.

“The decline of reported cases in measles means we have to redouble our efforts to protect the millions of endangered kids from dying of a fully preventable disease,” says Lori Sloate, Senior Director of Global Health at the UN Foundation. “The straightest path is to work together to leverage scarce resources that invest in local health system strengthening efforts to address both covid and basic immunisation. One cannot come at the expense of the other.”

who.int

RECOMMENDED FOR YOU

WHEN the new coronavirus variant Omicron was first detected in Botswana, it was as if Dr Nicole Ramlachan’s worst nightmare had come true.

For the past eight months the geneticist and associate professor at UTT had been warning that if there wasn’t an uptick in vaccination rates, the chances of the virus mutating would be higher. Her fears were confirmed on November 26 when the World Health Organisation officially declared Omicron a variant of concern.

“Soca music, take me, take me, take me back to my island.”

For more than three decades that timeless lyric from calypso icon David Michael Rudder has comforted many a pining West Indian heart, stuck in the hustle of big city life on both sides of the Atlantic.

AFTER a long hiatus, the exceptionally talented rapso artist Dixie-Ann Joseph, better known as Shakeela is back with new music. With some prodding from the youths of her Back Ah Yard Youth Development Programme she penned the words of her latest track “Irie Christmas” which was officially released on Wednesday on Wack Radio 90.1 FM.

Rhonda Knights is the undisputed female hip-hop queen of Trinidad and Tobago and this incontestable fact facilitated her rise to acclaim in the 90s in Trinidad and Tobago, but she’s far from done. As fierce as she’s ever been, Sistaron, as she’s popularly known, now delivers another hit single, this time with melody that’s intrinsically soca.

Welcome to the latest instalment of the Bocas Book Bulletin, a monthly roundup of Caribbean literary news, curated by the NGC Bocas Lit Fest, Trinidad and Tobago’s annual literary festival, and published in the Sunday Express.

A good meal is like hearing your favourite song. The right combination of ingredients could make you bob your head and shuffle your feet.

That’s exactly the response entertainer Dloxx (Dalton Jeremiah) aims to inspire daily at his self-titled Dloxx Kitchen in Arima. Dloxx cues up a different local favourite on his menu’s turntable six days of the week at the eatery located at Cynners Sports Bar on Subero Street in Malabar.