WHO warns of global measles threat as Pakistan fails in vaccinating children

Monitoring Desk

GENEVA: A latest report warns that measles cases in 2022 increased by 18 per cent and deaths by 43pc globally – a sharp increase when compared to 2021 – following years of declines in vaccination coverage.

“This takes the estimated number of measles cases to 9 million and deaths to 136,000 – mostly among children,” says a report prepared jointly by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Unfortunately, Pakistan is among the 10 countries – for the second consecutive year – with the highest number of infants who did not receive MCV1 (first dose of the measles-containing vaccine). These 10 countries accounted for 55pc of all children worldwide who did not receive MCV1.

Nigeria (3 million), Democratic Republic of the Congo (1.8 million), Ethiopia (1.7 million), India (1.1 million), Pakistan (1.1 million), Angola (0.8 million), Philippines (0.8 million), Indonesia (0.7 million), Brazil (0.5 million) and Madagascar (0.5 million).

According to the WHO, measles continues to pose a relentlessly increasing threat to children. In 2022, 37 countries experienced large or disruptive measles outbreaks compared with 22 countries in 2021. Of the countries experiencing outbreaks, 28 were in Africa, six in the Eastern Mediterranean, two in the Southeast Asia and one in Europe.

“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,” said John Vertefeuille, director of CDC’s Global Immunization Division.

“Measles cases anywhere pose a risk to all countries and communities where people are under-vaccinated. Urgent, targeted efforts are critical to prevent measles disease and deaths.”

Measles is preventable with two doses of measles vaccine. While a modest increase in global vaccination coverage occurred in 2022 from 2021, there were still 33 million children who missed a measles vaccine dose: nearly 22 million missed their first dose and an additional 11 million missed their second dose.

The global vaccine coverage rate of the first dose, at 83pc, and second dose, at 74pc, were still well under the 95pc coverage with two doses that is necessary to protect communities from outbreaks.

Low-income countries, where the risk of death from measles is highest, continue to have the lowest vaccination rates at only 66pc – a rate that shows no recovery at all from the backsliding during the pandemic.

“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,” said Kate O’Brien, WHO Director for Immunization, Vaccine and Biologicals.

“Children everywhere have the right to be protected by the lifesaving measles vaccine, no matter where they live.”