‘Staggering’ rise in measles cases last year, says WHO and CDC

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There was a staggering annual rise in measles cases and deaths in 2022, according to a new report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Cases jumped by 18% to an estimated 9 million, and deaths to 136 000, mostly among children, the health agencies said in a joint statement on Thursday.

There were large or disruptive outbreaks in 37 countries last year, the majority in Africa, compared to 22 in 2021.

“The increase in measles outbreaks and deaths is staggering, but unfortunately, not unexpected given the declining vaccination rates we have seen in the past few years,” said John Vertefeuille, director of the CDC’s global immunisation division.

The COVID-19 pandemic massively disrupted routine immunisation efforts worldwide, and the bounce back has been slow.

Measles is one of the most contagious viruses in the world but is preventable by two doses of vaccine.

However, 22 million children worldwide missed their first dose in 2022 and an additional 11 million their second dose, a slight improvement on the previous year.

However, the situation has not recovered at all since the pandemic in low-income countries, where the risk of dying of measles is highest, said the WHO.

Coverage rates there are at 66% on average, compared to the 95% the UN agency says is needed to prevent outbreaks. That is an “alarm bell for action” for countries and all global health stakeholders, said the WHO’s director of immunisation, Kate O’Brien.