Measles cases worldwide increase by 300 percent this year

Measles cases worldwide increase by 300 percent this year

By Kristelle Bechayda

There is a 300 percent increase in the number of measles cases worldwide for the first three months of 2019, as compared to the same period last year. This is according to the new measles surveillance data for 2019 by the World Health Organization (WHO), which was uploaded on their website last April 15.

The surveillance data shows that although less than one out of 10 cases are reported, there are about 112,163 measles cases reported from 170 countries for the first three months of this year, which is almost four times compared to the recorded cases of 28,124 during the same period of 2018.

“While this data is provisional and not yet complete, it indicates a clear trend. Many countries are in the midst of sizeable measles outbreaks, with all regions of the world experiencing sustained rises in cases,” the WHO statement said.

Apart from the Philippines, where the last reported number according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) was at 28,362, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Myanmar, Sudan, Thailand and Ukraine are also affected by the outbreak, with casualties being mostly young children.

Recently, the outbreak has also spread in countries with high overall vaccination coverage like the United States, Israel, Thailand, and Tunisia as the clusters of unvaccinated people made it easier for the disease to spread.

Measles, though preventable through vaccine, is one of the most contagious diseases in the world and can leave a patient with brain damage, blindness, and hearing loss.

Current status in the Philippines

In the attached file containing the full report, UNICEF broke down the vaccination status of the 28,362 measles cases in the country that were reported between the period of January 1 until April 5 of this year.

Apparently, 90 percent of the cases have no documented vaccination status, with only 3 percent of patients having been previously vaccinated with 2 doses of measles vaccine. Meanwhile, the vaccination status of the remaining 7 percent is unknown.

In the Rapid Coverage Assessments (RCA) conducted by UNICEF and WHO in 9 regions around the country, they found out that the most common reasons for non-vaccination were lack of information about the measles campaign, procrastination, and/or sickness. 25 percent who don’t want to have their child vaccination shared that they feared the vaccine, with the 12 percent referencing the dengvaxia anomaly, while the rest declined to mention their reasons.

Based on the risk assessment, the current measles outbreak poses a high risk at a national level and a moderate one in the regional level. The most affected age group is between 9 months and 5 years old.

The report added that there was a total of 4,758,520 individuals who were vaccinated against measles and rubella up until April 3, with a breakdown of 2,964,843 for ages 6-59 months, 825,725 for school-going children, and 967,952 children who are older than 12.

Armed with those statistics, the UNICEF and WHO are working hand-in hand to further address the measles outbreak with this response plan:

  • Prioritization of areas based on measles case epidemiology and number of unvaccinated children.
  • More intensive vaccination in areas where coverage is below 60%.
  • More attention is needed to follow proper cold chain practices to maintain vaccine effectiveness.
  • Expand age group for vaccination in areas with 95% coverage for selective target for 6 to 59 months.
  • For areas with over 100% coverage of selective target of 6 to 59 months, RCA team accompanied by mop up team should go around the area to ensure no child is left unvaccinated.
  • Region and LGU’s will need to analyze the measles epidemiology with plotting of weekly epi curve, age cohort of new cases, vaccination history of new cases.
  • Any cluster of measles cases are to be immediately notified to NIP team for appropriate follow up.

Apart from them, organization partners like the Philippine Red Cross (PRC), Americares, International Medical Corps (IMC), USAID-funded ReachHealth project, and International Organization for Migration (IOM) also provided support by adding more volunteers, medical staff, and medical supplies to speed up the vaccination campaign.