Alarming global surge of measles cases a growing threat to children – UNICEF

1st March 2019

PRESS RELEASE

 Alarming global surge of measles cases a growing threat to children – UNICEF 

Measles cases grew 244% in Ireland between 2017 and 2018 and globally 98 countries reported more cases of measles in 2018 than the previous year

 

UNICEF Ireland Executive Director Peter Power is available for interview

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NEW YORK/DUBLIN, 1 March 2019 – UNICEF warned today that global cases of measles are surging to alarmingly high levels. Cases of measles increased in 98 countries around the world, with cases in Ireland growing by 244%, from 25 in 2017 to 86 in 2018.

Globally, ten countries accounted for more than 74 per cent of the total increase, and several others that had previously been declared measles free saw new cases – eroding progress against this highly preventable, but potentially deadly disease.

“This is a wake-up call. We have a safe, effective and inexpensive vaccine against a highly contagious disease – a vaccine that has saved almost a million lives every year over the last two decades,” said Peter Power, UNICEF Ireland’s Executive Director. “These cases haven’t happened overnight. Just as the serious outbreaks we are seeing today took hold in 2018, lack of action today will have disastrous consequences for children tomorrow.”

Measles is highly contagious, more so than Ebola, tuberculosis or influenza. The virus can be contracted by someone up to two hours after an infected person has left a room. It spreads through air and infects the respiratory tract, potentially killing malnourished children or babies too young to be vaccinated. Once infected, there is no specific treatment for measles, so vaccination is a life-saving tool for children.

Poor health infrastructure, civil strife, low community awareness, complacency and vaccine hesitancy in some cases have led to these outbreaks in both developed and developing countries. For example, in the United States, the number of measles cases increased six-fold between 2017 and 2018, reaching 791 cases. More recently, the U.S. has seen outbreaks in New York and Washington state.

“Almost all of these cases are preventable, and yet children are getting infected even in places where there is simply no excuse,” said Power. “Measles may be the disease, but, all too often, the real infection is misinformation, mistrust and complacency. We must do more to accurately inform every parent, to help us safely vaccinate every child.”

To fight measles, UNICEF is issuing an urgent appeal to governments, health care providers, and parents to do more to contain the disease by:

Ukraine, the Philippines and Brazil saw the largest increases in measles cases from 2017 to 2018. In Ukraine alone, there were 35,120 cases of measles in 2018. According to the government, another 24,042 people were infected just in the first two months of 2019. In the Philippines so far this year, there have been 12,736 measles cases and 203 deaths[2], compared to 15,599 cases in the whole of 2018.

Countries with ten highest increases in cases between 2017 & 2018[1]
1. Ukraine: 30,338
2. Philippines: 13,192
3. Brazil: 10,262
4. Yemen: 6,641
5. Venezuela: 4,916
6. Serbia: 4,355
7. Madagascar: 4,307
8. Sudan: 3,496
9. Thailand: 2,758
10. France: 2,269
 
Notable reported measles cases in 2018 in countries with no reported cases in 2017
Brazil: 10,262
Moldova: 312
Montenegro: 203
Colombia: 188
Timor-Leste: 59
Peru: 38
Chile: 23
Uzbekistan: 17
 

[1] Note: The analysis is based on WHO’s global measles and rubella data of 194 countries for the year 2017 and 2018. To know more, click here. The analysis is based on the total confirmed cases of measles.

In Ukraine, UNICEF has provided ongoing support to accelerate routine immunization across the country and address vaccine hesitancy, including additional efforts to stop the most recent outbreak that has claimed 30 lives since 2017. In February, the Ministry of Health, with UNICEF’s support, launched an immunization drive at schools and clinics in the worst-hit Lviv region in western Ukraine, where negative attitudes toward immunization, and previous shortages in vaccine supply, have resulted in low vaccination rates.In response to these outbreaks, UNICEF and its partners are supporting governments to urgently reach millions of children in countries around the globe. For example:

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Notes to editors

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About the Measles and Rubella Initiative

UNICEF is part of the Measles and Rubella Initiative, a private-public partnership of five global partners including WHO, CDC, United Nations Foundation and American Red Cross that has been spearheading a global push towards measles and rubella elimination.

 

The analysis is based on WHO’s global measles and rubella data of 194 countries for the year 2017 and 2018. To know more, click here. The analysis is based on the total confirmed cases of measles.

ABOUT UNICEF

UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone. For more information about UNICEF and its work for children visit www.unicef.ie

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For more information, please contact:

Danny Smits, UNICEF Ireland, +353 87 1308070, danny@unicef.ie

[1] Note: The analysis is based on WHO’s global measles and rubella data of 194 countries for the year 2017 and 2018. To know more, click here. The analysis is based on the total confirmed cases of measles.

 

[2] Until 23 February 2019.