India was among six countries with the highest number of infants who had not received the vaccine against measles — while the contagious viral disease surged worldwide in 2019 reaching the highest number of reported cases in 23 years — last year, according to a new report of the World Health Organisation and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A total of 1.2 million children did not receive the first dose of measles-containing-vaccine (MCV1) in 2019 in India, accounting for nearly half of the world’s total along with the remaining five countries — Nigeria (3.3 million), Ethiopia (1.5 million), Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (1.4 million), Pakistan (1.4 million), and Philippines (0.7 million).
The report, titled ‘Progress Towards Regional Measles Elimination Worldwide 2000-2019’, states that cases across the world increased to 8,69,770 in 2019, the highest number reported since 1996 with a rise in all WHO regions. Global measles deaths climbed nearly 50 per cent since 2016, claiming an estimated 2,07,500 lives in 2019 alone, it said.
Comparing 2019 data with the historic low in reported measles cases in 2016, authors of the report cite a failure to vaccinate children on time with two doses of MCV1 and MCV2 as the main driver of these increases in cases and deaths. “We know how to prevent measles outbreaks and deaths,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “These data send a clear message that we are failing to protect children from measles in every region of the world. We must collectively work to support countries and engage communities to reach everyone, everywhere with the measles vaccine and stop this deadly virus,” the WHO chief has said.
To control measles and prevent outbreaks and deaths, vaccination coverage rates with the required MCV1 and MCV2 must reach 95 per cent and be maintained at national and subnational levels.
MCV1 coverage has been stagnant globally for over a decade at between 84 and 85 per cent. MCV2 coverage has been steadily increasing but is at 71 per cent now. Vaccination coverage against measles remains well below the 95 per cent or higher needed with both doses to control measles and prevent outbreaks.
“These alarming figures should act as a warning that, with the Covid-19 pandemic occupying health systems across the world, we cannot afford to take our eye off the ball when it comes to other deadly diseases. Measles is entirely preventable; in a time in which we have a powerful, safe and cost-effective vaccine nobody should still be dying of this disease. Covid-19 has resulted in dangerous declines in immunisation coverage, leading to increased risk of measles outbreaks. This is why countries urgently need to prioritise measles catch-up immunisation,” said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
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