18th November 2023– In a distressing revelation, measles cases have surged by 18%, and deaths have spiked by 43% globally in 2022 compared to the previous year, marking a significant setback in the fight against this preventable disease. A joint report from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) paints a grim picture, indicating that the estimated number of measles cases has soared to a staggering 9 million, with deaths reaching 136,000, predominantly among vulnerable children.
This alarming surge is underscored by the fact that 37 countries have struggled with large or disruptive measles outbreaks in 2022, a stark increase from the 22 countries affected in 2021. Among the nations experiencing these outbreaks, 28 were situated in the WHO Region for Africa, six in the Eastern Mediterranean, two in South-East Asia, and one in the European Region.
Expressing concern over the disturbing rise in cases, John Vertefeuille, director of CDC’s Global Immunization Division, stated, “The increase in measles outbreaks and deaths is staggering, but unfortunately, not unexpected given the declining vaccination rates we’ve seen in the past few years.” He emphasized the global interconnectedness, noting that measles cases anywhere pose a substantial risk to all countries and communities with under-vaccinated populations.
Measles, a preventable disease with a well-established vaccine regimen, has witnessed a modest increase in global vaccination coverage in 2022 compared to 2021. However, the report highlights a concerning fact – 33 million children still missed a measles vaccine dose. Among them, nearly 22 million missed their first dose, and an additional 11 million missed their crucial second dose.
The global vaccination coverage rates for the first and second doses stand at 83% and 74%, respectively. These figures fall significantly below the recommended 95% coverage with two doses, a threshold crucial for protecting communities from outbreaks.
A particularly alarming revelation is the persistent low vaccination rates in low-income countries, where the risk of death from measles is highest, standing at a mere 66%. This rate indicates no recovery from the setbacks experienced during the pandemic. Notably, over half of the 22 million children who missed their first measles vaccine dose in 2022 reside in just 10 countries: Angola, Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Nigeria, Pakistan, and the Philippines.
Kate O’Brien, the World Health Organization Director for Immunization, Vaccine, and Biologicals, underscored the urgent need for action, stating, “The lack of recovery in measles vaccine coverage in low-income countries following the pandemic is an alarm bell for action. Measles is called the inequity virus for good reason. It is the disease that will find and attack those who aren’t protected.”
In response to this escalating crisis, the CDC and WHO are urging countries to intensify efforts to locate and vaccinate all children against measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases. They are also making a plea to global stakeholders to provide assistance to countries in vaccinating their most vulnerable communities.
The report emphasizes the urgent need for robust surveillance systems and outbreak response capacity at the global, regional, national, and local levels to rapidly detect and respond to measles outbreaks, highlighting the critical role of coordinated global health efforts in combating this resurgent threat.
As the world continues to struggle with the devastating impact of the measles resurgence, the international community must unite in an unprecedented effort to ensure that life saving vaccines reach every child, regardless of their geographic location or their socioeconomic status. The urgency of this situation demands immediate action and collaboration on a global scale to stem the tide of this preventable but deadly disease.