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Anti-vaxxers have contributed to a spike in measles cases all over the world: WHO

Recent reports from the World Health Organization reveal multiple countries experienced an increase of measles cases in 2017, slowing down a decades-long positive trend around the globe.

The worrying new report used updated disease-modelling data and provides the most comprehensive estimates about the disease over the last 17 years. The paper shows that since 2000, over 21 million lives have been saved through measles immunisations, but since 2016, the positive trend has hit the brakes, with a 30 per cent increase in reported cases worldwide.

According to the study, the upsurge in cases was registered all over the world except the Western Pacific.

Measles is a highly contagious airborne infectious disease that can easily spread through the coughs and sneezes, saliva and nasal secretions of those infected by the measles virus.

It’s so infectious, nine out of ten people who are not immune and share the same living space with an infected person will contract it. The disease is extremely dangerous, causing a flurry of debilitating and even fatal complications that include encephalitis, pneumonia, ear infections, severe diarrhea and permanent vision loss.

No other disease preventable with a vaccine causes as many deaths as measles, which affects some 20 million people a year, primarily in developing areas of Africa and Asia. Risk of death is usually 0.2 per cent, with that number rising to 10 per cent in individuals suffering from malnutrition.

The disease is preventable through two doses of a vaccine that is proven to be both safe and effective. Widespread vaccination caused the disease to disappear from the Americas in 2016, but several factors halted this progress and led to Measles re-appearing in the region in 2017.

In similar setbacks, Russia, Germany and Venezuela and other countries have had their measles elimination certificate taken away over the last twelve months.

“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,” said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

“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.”

Martin Friede, the World Health Organization director of immunisation, vaccines and biologicals also partially blamed anti-vaxxers for the world going backwards. He said “supposed experts making accusations against the vaccine without any evidence” has had a negative impact on decisions by parents.

In response to the setbacks, health agencies from around the world are calling for a sustained investment in immunisation systems, along with greater efforts to strengthen routine vaccination services with a particular focus on vulnerable communities like people affected by armed conflict and marginalised populations.

“Sustained investments are needed to strengthen immunization service delivery and to use every opportunity for delivering vaccines to those who need them,” said Dr Robert Linkins, Branch Chief of Accelerated Disease Control and Vaccine Preventable Disease Surveillance at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Measles and Rubella Initiative Management Team Chair.

The full study is available in CDC’s latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report and WHO’s Weekly Epidemiological Record from November 30, 2018.

About the author

Filmmaker. 3D artist. Procrastination guru. I spend most of my time doing VFX work for my upcoming film Servicios Públicos, a sci-fi dystopia about robots, overpopulated cities and tyrant states. @iampineros

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