Spike in Measles cases reported, what could be the possible cause?

The international health organization has come a long way in its fight against measles. The past two decades have seen an astronomical drop of around 80% in deaths related to the disease.

Before the global drive against measles there were over 500000 deaths annually but after hard work of around 20 years, the number has dropped to 110000 for the year 2017. But recent reports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have pointed out some very disturbing statistics.

According to a report the year 2016-2017 saw a rise of more than 30% in measles-related cases. It is however notable that the WHO itself has said that the true number of cases can only be predicted using statistical modeling as the reported number of cases are far less than the actual ground figures.

The World Heath Organization has provided a reason for the inaccurate data, “Many cases do not seek health care or, if diagnosed, are not reported. In addition, there is a one to two-month lag time between detection and reporting. So, in general, the number of reported cases reflects a small proportion of the true number of cases occurring in the community.”

For the current year, the reported cases stand at 173330 whereas using the said statistical model the actual figures could be around 6.7 M.

Measles is a contagious viral disease that is capable of staying in the body for 2 weeks before any actual symptoms surface. The symptoms of measles include moderate fever and cough, which are very easy to overlook. Measles can compound the problems, especially in children, where it is coupled with other diseases like pneumonia and encephalitis. A medical condition with multiple diseases takes a huge toll on survival chances. The solution to this deadly disease lies with the vaccine.

The deputy director general from programs of WHO, Mr. Soumya Swaminathan added, “Without urgent efforts to increase vaccination coverage and identify populations with unacceptable levels of under-, or unimmunized children, we risk losing decades of progress in protecting children and communities against this devastating, but entirely preventable disease.”

The vaccine drive initiated in the late 1990s was extremely effective as the US was declared a ‘measles-free’ country in the year 2000. Worldwide deaths related to the disease have also fallen thanks to the timely administration of the vaccine. But recent statistics have put the WHO and CDC on alert.

According to a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, in the year 2018, 220 cases of measles have been reported so far. This number is a 255% gain from the 86 cases reported in 2016.

The researchers suggest that the increasing number of cases might have its roots in the poor vaccine coverage in far-flung areas and where the coverage is indeed available the non-cooperation of parents in vaccinating their children is the culprit.

The trend of increasing number of measles cases is not restricted to the US. Reports from WHO show that the Western Pacific region of the world is the only place who hasn’t seen a drastic rise in reported cases.

Seth Berkley, the CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance was available to comment on the issue; he said, “The increase in measles cases is deeply concerning but not surprising. Complacency about the disease and the spread of falsehoods about the vaccine in Europe, a collapsing health system in Venezuela and pockets of fragility and low immunization coverage in Africa are combining to bring about a global resurgence of measles after years of progress.”

Venezuela and Russia have joined the list of countries facing a relapse.

Mr. Berkley added, “Existing strategies need to change: more effort needs to go into increasing routine immunization coverage and strengthening health systems. Otherwise, we will continue chasing one outbreak after another.”

It is disappointing to know that the low coverage of vaccines and the misconception among the people about vaccinating their children may be the underlying cause behind the relapse. The medical experts have concluded that the disease needs to be put to rest again with a vigorous vaccine drive like the one that was done in the 1990s.

Adeena Tariq

Adeena's professional life has been mostly in hospital management, while studying international business in college. Of course, she now covers topics for us in health.

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