A new report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) paints a distressing picture of the measles crisis that unfolded in 2022. The numbers are stark: 136,200 lives lost, with the majority being innocent children. It’s a heart-wrenching reminder that measles, a preventable disease, continues to claim lives at an alarming rate.

The report underscores the urgent need for a global call to action, emphasising the critical role of life-saving vaccines. Measles, a highly contagious virus, has seen a surge in cases, jumping from 7 million in 2021 to a staggering 9 million in 2022. The increase in both deaths and cases is attributed to the profound disruption of routine health services caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite progress in measles vaccination coverage reaching 83%, the disparity is evident. Low-income countries, with a vaccination coverage of only 66%, bear the highest risk of measles-related fatalities. The Measles & Rubella Partnership (M&RP), in collaboration with countries, has been tirelessly working since 2001 to vaccinate millions of children, preventing an estimated 57 million deaths. However, the struggle for equitable progress persists.

In 2022, 37 countries experienced large or disruptive measles outbreaks, highlighting weaknesses and inequities in immunisation programs. The M&RP, along with its allies, stresses the importance of tailored solutions to ensure vaccines are accessible to every child, irrespective of their location.

Dr. Mary Agocs, M&RP co-chair, issues a poignant call to action, emphasising the need for urgent vaccination campaigns and strengthened health systems. The American Red Cross, a key partner, echoes the sentiment, emphasising the duty of humanitarians to protect vulnerable communities and ensure every child has the opportunity for a healthy life.

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, has been at the forefront of supporting lower-income countries’ measles vaccination efforts since 2000. Their commitment to reinforcing support in 2024 aims to achieve high coverage rates, especially in reaching zero-dose children and missed communities.

The United Nations Foundation emphasises the progress made in reducing measles-related deaths and the need to recommit to protecting all children. The CDC emphasises the risk posed by measles outbreaks globally and calls for urgent, targeted efforts to prevent disease and deaths.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Director for Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals, Kate O’Brien, issues a crucial warning about the lack of recovery in measles vaccine coverage in low-income countries post-pandemic. Measles, known as the “inequity virus,” preys on those who aren’t protected, emphasising the need for a renewed commitment to protecting every child.

As the world grapples with the devastating consequences of measles, the focus shifts to 2024. Gavi’s plans to support at least 15 lower-income countries in measles and rubella catch-up and follow-up vaccination campaigns represent a beacon of hope. The unprecedented efforts aim to reach 38.5 million children, signaling a determined step towards a world where every child has the chance to survive and thrive, free from the threat of measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases. The urgency is clear, and the time for action is now.

Reference:
Increase in Measles deaths demands urgent action to save lives [Internet]. Gavi.org. 2023 [cited 2024 Jan 3]. Available from: https://www.gavi.org/news/media-room/increase-measles-deaths-demands-urgent-action-save-lives

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