In the realm of child immunisation, an unsettling alarm has echoed through the corridors of the World Health Organisation (WHO) European Region. A staggering surge in measles cases, more than 30-fold compared to the previous year, has set off warning bells, demanding swift and decisive action.

The journey begins with the stark numbers – over 30,000 reported cases of measles between January and October 2023 across 40 of the 53 Member States. A chilling leap from the 941 cases recorded in the entirety of 2022. Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, paints a grim picture, expressing deep concern over not just the sheer volume of cases but also the ripple effect – nearly 21,000 hospitalisations and 5 tragic deaths linked to measles.

Behind this surge lies a critical narrative – a tale of resilience and vulnerability. The resurgence is, in large part, attributed to a decline in vaccination coverage from 2020 to 2022. The COVID-19 pandemic, a formidable disruptor, left a scar on immunisation efforts, resulting in a pool of un- and under-vaccinated children. The consequences are now manifesting in a relentless resurgence of measles.

The impact of this surge transcends age boundaries, affecting both the young and the old. Children aged 1 to 4 bear the brunt, constituting 2 in every 5 cases, while surprisingly, 1 in every 5 cases emerges in adults aged 20 and above. A concerning revelation, challenging preconceived notions about the age vulnerability to this preventable disease.

The interconnectedness of our world plays a role in this crisis. The resumption of travel and the easing of COVID-19 measures have provided fertile ground for the cross-border transmission of the measles virus. Even countries that had previously declared measles eliminated are not immune, facing the looming threat of disruptive outbreaks if routine childhood vaccination rates drop below 95%.

The story unfolds further with a call to arms. Localised immunisation strategies emerge as the beacon of hope. Tailored approaches, addressing disparities in vaccination coverage, are deemed fundamental. Every community must be a battleground for vaccine equity, a shared responsibility to protect the vulnerable from this preventable affliction.

As the narrative concludes, the path forward becomes clear – a collective effort to close immunity gaps and fortify vaccination coverage. The aim: a resurgence of progress towards the elimination of measles and rubella. The cornerstone remains simple, yet vital – vaccination coverage exceeding 95%, a shield against the resurgence of a disease that we have the power to prevent. 

Reference:

Star Health. (2024, February 11). A 30-fold rise of measles cases in 2023 warrants urgent action. The Daily Star. https://www.thedailystar.net/star-health/news/30-fold-rise-measles-cases-2023-warrants-urgent-action-3541036

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